By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
One narrative that is all too prominent in the second Union Peace Conference- officially called the 21st century Panglong Conference is the role of China and its proxies before and during the Conference.
In answering a question whether the Peace process relies on China, the Spokesperson of the Burmese State Counselor’s office U Zaw Htay admitted frankly that China plays an “important part” in the peace process.
What is noticed is the “behind the scene” activities of China which appears to be intent on steering the entire peace process away from the influence of UN, Japan and Western powers and take full control of the process. At the same time China is continuing to declare its neutrality in the whole process!
One important development has been that the hitherto passive pro China UWSA is taking a leading role in dealing with the government and in beginning a parallel peace process from the government-sponsored route of National Cease fire agreement and dialogue thereafter.
This process of active intervention of the Chinese proxy UWSA (United Wa State Army) is seen to have begun in February this year almost three months ahead of the Peace Conference at Napithaw, when it backed the offensive of the norther alliance consisting of the Kokang, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army and most importantly the second most powerful ethnic group the KIA in the North East close to the Chinese border.
This offensive though provoked by the Tatmadaw’s (Army) earlier, has been intensified by the alliance with the declared objective of seeking an alternative route from the National Cease fire agreement formally initiated by the government and supported by the United Nations and other western countries.
In backing the offensive, the UWSA formed a new seven party alliance, calling itself “Federal Political and Consultative Committee” marking a paradigm shift from bilateral cease fire to one of taking a leading role in the whole peace process. This shift could not have occurred without Chinese blessings. It is well known by now that the UWSA whose area with Pangshang as Hqrs it close to the Chinese border is the biggest ethnic insurgent unit with over 30,000 fighters supported and equipped by China with modern weaponry. It is said that the Wa territory is a “no go” area and even Tatmadaw will have to inform the UWSA before entering their territory.
Parallel to this development is the unconfirmed report that the KIA/KIO has left the UNFC (United National Federal Council) thus making this organization irrelevant to the entire peace process. Another ethnic unit the Shan State Progressives party has also left the UNFC. Thus the UNFC which had boycotted the second peace conference has become considerably weaker in the absence of the two dominant groups and may no longer be relevant to the peace process.
What will now be relevant to the peace process will be the weak patch work pro government -8 parties who signed the National Cease-fire agreement in October 2015 and the newly formed alliance led by UWSA that has called itself the Federal Political and Consultative committee and had suggested an alternate route to the peace process. This group which is powerful with the coming together of the UWSA and the KIO has other units like the Shan State Progressive party/Shan State Army -North, Tang National Liberation Army, the National Democratic group the Mongla, the Kokang and the Arakan Army in the alliance.
The Tatmadaw had earlier justly opposed the inclusion of the last three- Kokang, TNLA and the AA in joining the peace process without first surrendering their arms as they had sprouted only after the cease fire agreement of 2015.
Chinese intervention was responsible in forcing the Burmese Army and the government with its chief negotiator to relent and invite the three armed groups as “special guests’ to the conference. What is more, the State Counselor was to meet the groups for talks during the conference- a change from total exclusion to one of legitimization with the Counselor herself talking directly to the groups.
The Chinese ambassador to Myanmar- Hong Liang is also said to have attended the closed door meeting of the northern groups with the government’s peace negotiating team.
The Irrawady of 23rd May reported that the Chinese Special Envoy Sun Guoxiang met Suu Kyi, Army Chief Ming Ang Liang and the government’s chief negotiator on behalf of the new groups and to get them invited as special guests. The Press had also reported that the leaders of the three groups- the Kokang (who are still fighting in the north), the TNLA and the AA were kept ready in Yunnan province to be flown immediately to Napithaw once the invitation for the conference was made by the government.
So much for the declared policy of China of non interference in the internal affairs of another country. When Xi Jinping mentioned to Suu Kyi at the OBOR summit that China would provide necessary assistance to Burma’s peace process- what he meant was that the process will hereafter be between the Chinese supported groups and the Myanmar government to ensure peace and stability of the region to the exclusion of other countries.
This means that the parallel peace process now initiated by Chinese proxies with the backing of China may take the centre stage and peace process will now become one with “Chinese Characteristics.”