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DVB discusses the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China’s live fire exercise near the Sino-Burmese border with Dr Hla Kyaw Zaw, a Kunming-based political analyst, and the daughter of late Thirty Comrades member and leader of the Communist Party of Burma Kyaw Zaw.
Q: Does China’s latest military drill by the Burmese border seem normal to you?
A: China has always conducted military drills around the border area, especially when there is a commotion on the Burmese side, such as intense fighting with the KIA [Kachin Independence Army] or when the fighting spills over the border into China. The latest military drill involves the PLAAF [PLA Air Force] and missile units, so it is quite high profile, and the activities are broadcast on daily television. But China seems to be taking a lot of caution; they informed the Burmese government in advance about the drill and where it would take place.
Q: We were told that around 40,000-50,000 PLA troops joined the training?
A: China didn’t announce the number of troops involved in the drill. But they officially stated their reason [for the drill], saying that it was a pre-emptive measure to ensure stability along the Sino-Burmese border. I think their real intention behind the drill is to please the Chinese civilian population at the border who have been angry with their armed forces for apparently failing to protect them. So this exercise is mainly for domestic purposes, directed at the Chinese public.
Q: We saw some Chinese civilian casualties when heavy fighting took place in Kokang and spilled across the border. Burma initially denied responsibility for stray bombs that landed on Chinese soil but eventually admitted the bombs were theirs. How did the Chinese public react to these incidents?
A: The Chinese government had repeatedly warned their Burmese counterparts about fighting spilling across the border since the first shell landed on their soil. This was before there was any loss of civilian life. Despite this, both the Burmese army and air force have consistently mis-fired artillery and dropped bombs onto Chinese territory and caused civilian deaths. That really upset the Chinese public, who felt that the Burmese completely ignored the concerns expressed by their government. Also, the Burmese military has been acting provocatively towards the PLA, for example, they have been taking pot shots at Chinese patrols across the border. Therefore, the Chinese government may feel that a show of force is necessary, and is also a move to satisfy their critics at home.
Q: Throughout the past couple of decades, China was Burma’s most powerful ally in the United Nations Security Council, and protected the former military regime from international action by wielding veto-power. Why do you think the situation has now changed?
A: In the past, China was the sole protector of the Burmese regime when it was targeted by Western sanctions. But now, Burma has opened the door for diplomatic relations with the US and Europe, and also Japan in the east, and they probably realise they no longer have to rely on China alone. Moreover, the Burmese military, in an attempt to deflect public anger, is now seemingly instilling racial hatred and anti-Chinese sentiment amongst the public. The Kokang have been recognised as one of the ethnic groups in Burma, and now Naypyidaw is babbling on about ‘protecting Burmese sovereignty’. I think they are on an anti-China propaganda drive targeted at both the Burmese public and military.
Q: The spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defence gave a strongly worded statement regarding Burma’s conduct at the border. How do you think Burma, as a smaller country, should engage with China to ease these tensions?
A: China’s diplomatic policy is focused on peaceful development. We should note that China doesn’t only have border and territorial issues with Burma, but also with Vietnam and the Philippines, and Beijing is trying to gradually resolve these issues in a peaceful manner. We can expect the same with Burma.
Q: Regarding the Chinese military exercises, some Burmese feel that it poses a threat to their sovereignty and so should not be taken lightly. What do you think about that?
A: It is nothing to worry about. The people making these claims may have some kind of agenda. Personally, I am, personally, not at all worried because China tends to look to improve bilateral relations, either with India, Burma or anyone else.