border review | 21 July 2011

Current Situation in Northern Burma

Very good summary of the current events in Northern Burma by Nicholas Farrelly for The Interpreter. In June, the quarrels over security for a Chinese hydro-electricity project caused the end of the long ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese government.

From 1994-2011, while the KIA ceasefire was in place, the Chinese government became increasingly enthusiastic about the mineral exploration, infrastructure development and trading opportunities presented by northernmost Burma. Huge investments followed. Jade and gold mining, logging and dam building all became big business. India watched cautiously, invoking its ‘look east’ framework so as to not miss out entirely.

The KIA ceasefire led to unprecedented economic development and relative political calm; it also reinforced age-old Kachin resentments about ethnic Burmese chauvinism. Today, any optimism about the region’s immediate prospects has disappeared. This war, on territory right between China and India, has seen the KIA trading heavy blows with Burmese government military forces. […]

The proximate cause is a dispute over security for a Chinese hydro-electricity project. But what really infuriates the Burmese military leadership is their years-long inability to persuade the KIA to become a ‘Border Guard Force’. Such an arrangement would mean surrendering overall command to Burmese officers and would ensure the slow death of the KIA as a force for defending ethnic minority pride.

The KIA has announced that it will only accept a new ceasefire brokered and guaranteed by international third parties. The obvious choices for mediation can be found among the neighbours: China and India. Any intensification of hostilities promises to push more refugees into China and damage northern Burma’s substantial Chinese commercial interests. Further destabilisation of northern Burma will have implications for the Indian government too.

More analysis by Ferrelly and others at New Mandala. And here a piece by Zin Linn for Asian Correspondent about the Chinese warnings to the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) that this was not a time to oppose the Junta. Mining and Chinese interests also plays a crucial role in Wa territory, as Magnus Fiskesjö shows in his recent article for the Journal of Global History.1

  1. Fiskesjö, Magnus. 2010. “Mining, History, and the Anti-State Wa: The Politics of Autonomy Between Burma and China.” Journal of Global History 5, no. 02; doi:10.1017/S1740022810000070.