Myanmar and the importance of peace on China's borders

By Tim Collard
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 18, 2015
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Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with a delegation from Myanmar's National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by NLD chair Aung San Suu Kyi, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, June 11, 2015. [Photo/Xinhua]

As China works on the construction of its comprehensive strategy to promote infrastructural and developmental cooperation among the nations of Southeast Asia, problems of a most unhelpful type are threatening to disrupt the process. China has always aimed at close involvement with Myanmar on its southwestern border, a formerly neglected and isolated state which occupies a key strategic position, both from the point of view of security and in the context of the proposed "Maritime Silk Road" initiative. While the West has tended to keep its distance from the regime which has dominated the country for the last two decades, China chose the path of engagement with the ruling SPDC in the hope that this would ensure a stable neighbor.

However, Myanmar has failed to achieve lasting stability, and internal conflict continues. Although no-one in Myanmar is intending to confront China, the civil conflict is beginning to spill over the border. In March a bomb was accidentally dropped on the Chinese county of Gengma and five people were killed, and more recently, on May 14, two artillery shells fell on the village of Nanzan, in the same Lincang Prefecture, and five more people were injured. It is hardly surprising that China now finds it necessary to assert its intent to defend its territory and citizens and keep order in the border regions.

Accordingly, a highly significant combined forces exercise has been initiated by the PLA. Starting on June 9, this has involved aviation, artillery, air defence, infantry, radar, missile defence and tank support. The PLA has described the aim of the exercise as "testing capacity for maneuver, reconnaissance, strike power, mobilization and militia reserve support," but its main resonance will probably be political, ensuring that all contending forces within Myanmar are given a clear warning against encroachment on Chinese territory.

This should not in any way be seen as evidence of aggressive intent on China's part. It goes without saying that peace within the region is the prerequisite for any transnational development projects of the kind envisaged by China in the context of the land and maritime silk road initiatives. And it is not enough just to avoid conflict between states; the possible ramifications of internal conflict can be enough to threaten the peace, not to mention rendering any serious work on infrastructure projects virtually impossible.

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