By Francis Wade
Security along the volatile border between China and Burma is expected to take centre stage during talks this weekend with senior Chinese military officials in Naypyidaw.
The vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, Xu Caihou, arrived in the Burmese capital yesterday evening for what analysts are billing as high level defence exchanges between the neighbouring states. Burma’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, is expected to return the gesture with a visit to Beijing next month.
The key areas for discussion will be the lengthy frontier region that plays host to a number of armed ethnic groups, as well as the security of the trans-Burma Shwe dual pipeline which, when it comes online in 2013, will become a key crutch for China’s soaring energy demands.
Military analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw told DVB today that China would be looking to gauge the new Burmese government’s policy towards ethnic armies along the border. China remains concerned about stability there following clashes in 2009 that forced an exodus of Burmese refugees across the border and exposed the central government’s flimsy hold on the region.
There is also the added problem of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest ethnic armed group located in northern Shan state, bordering China. Aung Kyaw Zaw said that the “Wa problem is very difficult to solve” for both governments, as China attempts to reconcile its historic support for the group with its strengthening ties to the Burmese government.
China has pumped significant capital into the Burmese economy in the past two years (some $US10 billion in 2010 alone) but has quietly reasserted its fears that political unrest in the country will jeopardise investments. This is nowhere more acute that the Shwe project, with the $US30 billion pipeline set to pass close to rebel territory before it enters Yunnan province.
The Times of India reported that as part of Beijing’s moves to strengthen its sea surveillance capabilities, more ships would be deployed to the Indian Ocean to monitor security around the Bay of Bengal, where the oil and gas pipelines begin.
Several bilateral agreements over maritime security are expected to be signed during talks with Xu Caihou this weekend, who becomes the first foreign military official to visit Burma since the nominally civilian government came to power in March.
Bar a sharp rebuke from China following the 2009 border clashes, the exchange of rhetoric between the governments has generally been one of mutual respect, with both declining to comment on their respective domestic controversies. This continued yesterday with Min Aung Hlaing reiterating Burma’s support “for the One China policy” and “China’s stances on the issues of Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang”, according to Xinhua.