LAC aggression raises alarm bell in Myanmar over Chinese expansion along country's Northern border. China’s direct or indirect support to ethnic groups, including the UWSA, gives it leverage in all kinds of negotiations with Myanmar authorities

NEW DELHI: Myanmar authorities taking a cue from China’s aggression against India along the Line of Actual Control are worried over Beijing’s encroachment along its northern border.

The Chinese aggression reflects the ambition of China’s leader Xi Jinping to assert the country’s territorial claims, economic interests and strategic goals and Myanmar is cautious, ET has reliably learnt.

China is known to further its territorial contentions by establishing residential plots in disputed areas. China and Myanmar share a 2,227-kilometer-long border. The two countries signed a boundary protocol in 1961, under which they agreed to conduct joint inspections of the demarcated boundary every five years. But this has only occurred twice—in 1984-86 and 1992-95.

A dispute over the border between Myanmar’s northern Shan State and China has simmered since 2008. Last year, a row erupted over the location of the boundary between the two countries on the Ruili River near northern Shan State’s Muse Township.

The dispute erupted near Pang Sai Kyukote sub-township in Muse when Chinese villagers put up a fence nearly 30 meters inside Myanmar in Hpai Kawng Village. The Chinese villagers eventually stopped their activity and took down the fencing materials after Myanmar villagers complained to district officers.

With the Chinese government pushing Myanmar to implement the long-delayed, ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), more unrest and more border disputes can be anticipated.

Shan and Kachin states are especially susceptible to China’s actions because both are important to BRI projects and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which will eventually reach from China’s Yunnan Province to Mandalay in central Myanmar. From there, it will stretch south to Yangon and west to the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone in Rakhine State bordering Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s government last year approved three locations to establish cross-border economic cooperation zones on the Chinese border in Kachin and Shan states. The zones will comprise trading houses, industrial sites and other facilities.

However, there are still ongoing negotiations between Myanmar and China over land use. With Chinese investment, Myanmar’s pro-China ethnic armed groups based near the northern border built several new cities and casinos on Myanmar soil, ET has learnt.

For example Panghsang, under the command of Wa insurgents, looks almost like a Chinese city, ET has learnt.

Panghsang is the capital of the Wa Region, a self-administered area approved by Myanmar’s Constitution. It is home to Myanmar’s largest and best-equipped ethnic armed group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), with an estimated 30,000 troops and 10,000 auxiliary members.

In Panghsang, most people communicate in Mandarin. The yuan is the currency of choice, and Chinese mobile phones and internet connections are dominant. Stores are stocked with goods imported from China. Panghsang no doubt is a Chinese enclave in the Wa region. With well-paved roads, the electricity supply is uninterrupted and high-rise constructions are mushrooming.

Now Chinese investors are reportedly building a new town near Panghsang, and it is in a restricted area with no visitors allowed. According to informed sources, the purpose of the new town is to allow Chinese businessmen to come and visit. Myanmar authorities can do little to prevent this project since Wa region is administered by Wa authorities. The fact is, this is a violation of the Constitution of Myanmar and the sovereignty of the country. Both the central government and the military should respond to these issues.

Wa soldiers are equipped with modern Chinese weapons including armoured vehicles and heavy artillery. More than 20,000 square kilometres of territory are under UWSA control. The Wa also sell weapons and ammunition to other ethnic insurgents in Myanmar, sources indicated to ET.

China’s direct or indirect support to ethnic groups, including the UWSA, gives it leverage in all kinds of negotiations with Myanmar authorities.

The same is true for Mong La in the Golden Triangle region, where casinos, hotels, entertainment clubs and other buildings have mushroomed since former communist insurgents signed a ceasefire with the military regime in the 1990s.

The National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) established in 1989 was one of the first armed groups to sign a ceasefire with the Myanmar military.

Located in eastern Shan State, Mong La covers nearly 13,000 sq. km and has a population of around 100,000. Tourism and business are booming due to Chinese investors. The expansion of Chinese influence is obvious.