Burmese Perspective: China, International Scene and the 2nd Panglong Conference

By Kanbawza Win | 13 January 2011

Ancient Chinese History says that in the year 492 BC, Goujain, the king of Yue in modern Zhejiang district, in a war was taken prisoner by king Fuchai, his northern neighbour. Goujain was put to work in the royal stables where he bore his captivity with such dignity and loyalty that he gradually won Fuchai;s respect, so much so that after few years time Fuchai let him return home as his vassal.

He appeared to be a loyal vassal building a beautiful palace for Fuchai and send him the most beautiful women of Yue and at the same time bribe his officials and brought enough grains to empty Fuechai’s granary. But he never forgets his humiliation. He slept on brushwood and hangs a gall bladder in his room, licking it daily to feed his appetite for revenge. He worked very hard for the prosperity of his kingdom and soon he became prosperous, as the kingdom of Fuchai decline. He bided his time for several years until he was very confident of his superiority and with more than 50,000 men marched to get his revenge, and put Fuchai kingdom to the sword. He has become a symbol of perseverance and hard work which every Chinese has to study as an exemplary. So anyone who lose heart and despair, the Chinese use to point out King Goujain. The Chinese today sees him as a symbol of perseverance and dedication. Students were told that if they want to succeed they must be like King Goujain, sleeping on brushwood and tasting gall bladder, that great accomplishment will come with sacrifice and unyielding purpose. In short, sleeping on brushwood and tasting gall bladder to the Chinese is somewhat similar to King Alfred and his burning cakes to the English, or cutting of a cherry tree by George Washington, to the American.

China has been licking the gall bladder since the first opium war in 1842 (during the Quing Dynasty) when Britain imposed the unequal treaty of Nanking and Hong Kong has to be ceded to the British and opened its ports for opium trade. Following a series of Opium Wars it has bear the colonial humiliation for nearly a century until Mao Hse Dong proclaimed the People`s Republic of China on 1st Oct. 1949. Deng Xioping set about reforming the economy in 1978 and put more than one and half billion people to work hard. Militarily and economically still too weak to challenge the sole super power, it talk of peace all the time and concentrated on getting richer throughout the rest of the twentieth century.

Assertive China
As China grown in power and rebuilt its mighty armed forces, the West and Japan has run into debts especially America with its disastrous wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan (in other words modern Fuchai kingdom). They have no choice but to sell their technology to the Chinese who is now the richest country in the world. Taking the parable of Goujain, many people finds it alarming about China’s rise to superpower and foresee China verses the World since it has about one third of the population of the world and its Diaspora population controlling the economy of their respective countries? Will the 21st century Goujain fits with the world’s civilization, as a place where people desire nothing more than a chance to succeed and enjoy the rewards of their hard labour or as the Chinese wealth and power grows overshadowing every country including the United States- will China become a threat to the world? An angry China set out to avenging the past wrongs and forcing others to bend to its will? One can gauge its outcome and whether it will go along with the world’s civilization or not can be seen in the treatment of its Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and its better half Liu Xia similar to what the Burmese Junta has treated to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Michael Aris. Moreover the setting up of a rival Nobel Prize (Confucius Prize where according to the Burmese Cartoon by Hanlay, Than Shwe aspired to get one) clearly indicates that the Chinese wants the world to tow its way. Hence, it seems the peace and prosperity of the world depends very much on the path China takes and the whole world is getting ready to face it.

Admittedly before 2000, China and US fall out over Taiwan (now a day military experts analysed that if there come to shooting over Taiwan the US would suffer a disastrous defeat) and the American deliberately bomb of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the collision of an American EP3 spy plane with a Chinese fighter, it seems that they are at loggerhead. But at that time the modern Goujain was not sure and still licking the gall bladder and did not pursue the matter while the American shifted their attention to Al Qaeda and terrorism.

This suited modern King Goujain that the best way to build a comprehensive national power was through economic growth and China began to join the international organization which it once shunned and became a responsible citizen of the world when it led the six party talks designed to curbed North Korea and signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and stopped the proliferating the rouge Chinese companies. Moreover it sent peace keeping troops more than any other permanent member of the UNSC and NATO combined together.

A decade after the new millennium 2011 is different. Very lately it has fallen out with Japan over a fishing boat and the dispute flare over again over the Sinkaku Island which the Chinese calls Diaoyu Island (prompting Japan to look again its defence policy). China deliberately refused to condemn North Korea in the sinking of Cheonan killing 43 South Korean crewmen even though the international panel condemned it. But when South Korea reacted with the joint military exercise it objected it. Again China renewed its Spratly Islands dispute with ASEAN countries and at the Hanoi summit meeting, the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi spat “All of you should remember how much your prosperity depends on us.”

When the Indian Prime Minister visited Manmohan Singh visited the disputed territory in Tibet there was a scorching attacked by the People’s Daily the Chinese government mouthpiece. Last year when I was attending the climatic conference in Copenhagen I saw with my own eyes of a junior Chinese official wagging his finger at Barrack Obama, the de facto leader of the free world. Worst of all is that China is the only country in the world that eulogise the sham Burmese elections clearly indicating it supported the Burmese Junta versus the people of Burma. Such things are small in themselves but it indicates that modern king Goujain has come for revenge. In other words, the Chinese modern King Goujain will soon makes its power felt to the rest of the world, now that the men on the Dragon throne are quite confident to taking the West led by the US.

National Character of the Chinese can be measured in yuán (元) and jiǎo (角),
As China's dealings with Burma suggest, Beijing's new approach to pariah states is inherently limited. For one thing, China's shifting diplomacy reflects not a fundamental change in its values but a new perception of its national interests. Its main motivations remain energy security and economic growth, and Chinese leaders still swear by Deng's 24-character strategy. Beijing paramount aim is economic by simply devising more sophisticated means to secure them as if to appear some morality in them. Thus, it should come as little surprise that China has avoided supporting tough penalties against Tehran and Khartoum or that even though it has removed Sudan from its list of countries with preferential trading status, few analysts in Beijing believe the move will substantially curb China's activities in that country. Hu's decision to chill ties with Zimbabwe was an economic calculation: any further investment there would yield little return while the economic crisis raged and Zimbabwe as defaulting on Chinese loans.

When it comes to countries on China's periphery, such as North Korea, Burma, or the Central Asian states, the prospects of regime change unleash deep anxieties in Beijing about being encircled by new democracies -- and about the United States' ultimate strategic intentions in welcoming democratization throughout the world. In addition, the shift is not underpinned by the consensus in Beijing that would be necessary for a more comprehensive change in China's approach to pariah states. Beijing's moves have been piecemeal, with its top leaders debating in detail the merits of their every decision. China's old guard still opposes pressuring Sudan or imposing sanctions on Iran, for instance, in the name of developing-world solidarity. The hard-liners want to support pariah regimes in order to counterbalance U.S. power. Many Chinese arms and energy companies, and their powerful supporters in government, frequently oppose a more responsible Chinese foreign policy or try to circumvent the costly restrictions that come with it. And without an open civil society, a free press, or an independent judiciary in China, it is exceedingly difficult to hold the Chinese government, the Chinese military or Chinese companies accountable for their actions Burma. Like Burma, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe continue to receive arms and ammunition and the dual-use and conventional weapons technologies from economic and military actors in China. The fiery dragon will continue to set its own agenda, modern king Goujain has make its presence felt and the world did not seems to realise it.

US and China
In February 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a comprehensive review of U.S. policy towards Burma which stated that in addition to ongoing U.S. sanctions and support for the democratic opposition, it would also primarily by the desire to contain Chinese influence in Burma and the region. China is convinced that it is part of a larger effort to encircle China through security alliances and a military presence in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. Washington’s engagement policy has various implications for Beijing as the possibility of warmer ties between the U.S. and Burma viewed as a potential threat to Chinese security, in particular its south-western border and access to the Indian Ocean. It begins in Japan, stretches through nations in the South China Sea to India, and ends in Afghanistan

American policy of continued sanctions on Burma have thrived Chinese business and companies have now become a threat. China understands the Burmese military Junta’s desire to engage in dialogue with the U.S. as part of an effort to rid itself of sanctions, receive more development assistance, attract more foreign investment and build its international legitimacy. It also a means to strengthen its bargaining position vis-à-vis China and other countries.

While Beijing is aware that the U.S. engagement policy has not achieved its stated objectives so far, it worries about changes after the elections which could give momentum to the relationship. Given Western criticism of the elections, Chinese analysts predict that both the Obama administration and the military regime are likely to wait “for the dust to settle” after the controversial polls before making further moves. The U.S. administration’s engagement policy – which Beijing sees as a potential challenge to its influence in the country also contribute to China’s perception that the Junta may be gaining leverage in the relationship. While increasing its economic presence in the country, Beijing is also stepping up diplomatic engagement through high-level visits.

Beijing feels that India is ready to take advantage of any chill in Sino-Burma relations to position its corporations for further investment. Senior General Than Shwe’s state visit to New Delhi from 25-29 July 2010, highlighted deepening bilateral ties, irritated Beijing. Even though weak governance and widespread corruption in Burma present challenges to Chinese companies, they have not discouraged investment. Chinese officials and business people see this chaotic economic reality as an opportunity rather than as a deterrent. Many in the Chinese business community feel that while the lack of market regulation can pose problems, it also can be a boon that allows them to exploit labour and natural resources. Bribery is seen as a necessary cost of business. Hence Chinese investment and trade in Burma is growing dramatically. Beijing could not be fooled by the Burmese Generals saying that they hate the Chinese, because she holds all the triumph cards.

The Chinese are constructing the Naypyidaw International Airport. Over 2000 kilometres Kunming- Rangoon railway to be extended to Tavoy’s deep sea port. Renovating the Stillwell road (Myitkyina to Kunming) and of course the largest joint projects is a pipeline that will carry natural gas to Kunming from Burmese offshore fields in the Bay of Bengal. And soon China will construct a railway line along this route, linking Kunming and the Arakan State deep-sea port of Akyab which all are just billion dollars projects to prove that Burma was the economic colony of China and there is the possibility that soon Burma will be one of the autonomous regions of Burma like Tibet.

Rethinking of Our Policy?
In such an international scenario, the Burmese ethno democratic forces led by Daw Aung San Su Kyi will have to be very wary, wise, far sighted and patient to get away from the path of the fiery dragon breathing out the flames from its nostrils. Burma’s geographical location of 2185 kilometres common border with China has a history of vassal of China since the battle of “Nga Saung Gyan” when the Burmese king Narathihapatae pronounced [nəɹa̰ θìha̰pətḛ) was overthrown by the Chinese in 1278. Now that the Junta Chief Than Shwe has virtually made Burma a dependent of China just to sustain himself in power even though he tried to forgets that king Hsinbyushin has conquered the Chinese in 1756-69 at the cost of 70,000 Chinese soldiers and four commanders တရုပ္ျမန္မာစစ္ပြဲ 中緬戰爭 or 清緬戰爭.

Burma is both a strategically important client and an embarrassment for China. But Beijing has far more vested interests in Burma, a neighbour, close ally, and home to two plus million Chinese nationals. In addition to worrying about long-standing problems such as the drug trade, cross-border crime, and the potential spill over of ethnic insurgencies from Burma, Beijing is hoping to use Burma's ports and new transport links to India to develop China's poor and landlocked South-western provinces. In an effort to facilitate the shipment of oil supplies from Africa and the Middle East while bypassing the energy-supply route that runs through the Strait of Malacca chokepoint, China is constructing a gas and oil pipeline from western Burma to Yunnan and Sichuan.

Nonetheless, China's patience with the Burmese Junta has been wearing thin recently. For several years, Beijing encouraged it to undertake Chinese-style economic and political reforms in order to help the regime consolidate its rule, ensure stability, and regain international acceptability. It supported former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, whom it considered a Deng-style reformist -- only to see him ousted in 2004. As the Burmese regime hardened further, China's confidence in the junta's capacity or willingness to reform faded. Beijing called on the regime to "listen to the call of its own people and speed up the process of dialogues and reforms."

Even as China was pushing the Junta to accommodate the demands of the country's ethnic nationalities groups, it started managing those relationships itself, for example, by convening in Kunming the leaders of various armed Burmese ethnic groups and pressing them to consider disarming. Chinese officials also intensified their efforts to reach out to the democratic opposition by hosting its representatives for meetings in China and sponsored talks between the U.S. government and the Burmese government in Beijing.

One important way to persuade China to cooperate will be to assuage its fears about the consequences of change in pariah states like Burma and Iran. The political upheaval or other major crises in Burma, North Korea, and Sudan would be disastrous to China hence Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should seek out dialogue with Beijing, both to reassure Beijing about the implications of political transitions and to enlist its help in facilitating them. Meetings with Burmese opposition groups have played an important role in helping to moderate the Chinese government's position with respect. Of course, such moves will require firm support from Hu and the rest of China's top brass. Of all the parties involved in making the Chinese policy towards Burma, the Chinese Foreign Ministry is generally more supportive of China's evolving dictatorship diplomacy, even though when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released all the diplomatic circles came to congratulate her except the Chinese ambassador in Rangoon. This is partly because it cannot its position over the Ministry of Commerce or the military in cooperation with the Yunnan province.

China has moved from outright obstructionism and a defensive insistence on solidarity with the developing world to an attempt to balance its material needs with its acknowledged responsibilities as a major power. Hence our policies towards China should not be construing as an obstacle but rather as a critical partner giving preference to economics than morality. The writing on the wall is that even though many Western governments have imposed sanctions on Burma's military regime for its atrocious human-rights record, a new competition is unfolding in this crossroads nation: regional powers are scrambling for access to Burma's plentiful natural gas, timber and minerals. For Burma's top brass — who have at their disposal a 400,000-strong military corps and a record of institutionalized rape, torture and forced labour — democratic reform would mean not only ceding political supremacy but also surrendering the opportunity to siphon wealth from ever growing state coffers. Unlike South Africa's apartheid government when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Burma's dictatorship is not in its death throes. If anything, because of burgeoning foreign investment in Burma, especially over the past five years, the Junta is even more entrenched than a decade ago.

Current Situation and the 2nd Panglong Conference
At the outset of the twenty-first century, the overriding goal of the Burmese Junta is regime survival. Close and cordial relations with China are a key element of the strategy. The Junta maintains its grip on power through sheer brute force, and the new generation of military leaders continues to adhere to the country’s current foreign and domestic policies. As such, the Junta will continue to look to China for diplomatic protection, economic sustenance and military hardware. China’s action at the UNSC underscores its continued position as Burma’s most valuable ally. Since the early 1990s, Burma has viewed China’s veto-power at the UN as its ultimate insurance policy against an East Timor-style international intervention. Contrary to what many observers believe, however, Burma is neither Beijing’s puppet nor a pawn in China’s grand strategy in Asia. The Junta is xenophobic, and Rangoon’s foreign policy actions since the mid-1990s strongly suggest that the ruling military junta has sought to reduce its dependence on China by reaching out to other countries. Since 2000, this policy—implemented with varying degrees of success—has only accelerated, with India becoming the primary beneficiary. China is likely to retain its privileged position in the hierarchy of Burma’s foreign relations in the immediate future. Nevertheless, in line with its desire to exercise some diplomatic latitude, it seeks to bolster relations with other regional countries as well. India will figure prominently and there is the possibility of a major nationalist backlash against China as a result of the Sinicization of upper Burma and the growing resentment caused by income disparities between impoverished Burmese and Chinese immigrants.

Burma’s sham elections last year present a new challenge to China. Beijing was caught off-guard by the Junta`s offensive into Kokang in August 2009 that sent more than 30,000 refugees into Yunnan province and become international media headlines. Since then it has used pressure and mediation to push Naypyidaw and the ethnic groups that live close to China’s border to the negotiating table. Beijing feels its interests are being challenged by a changing bilateral balance of power due to the Obama administration’s engagement policy and China’s increasing energy stakes in the country. It also process that Burma`s ethnic nationalities are a liability rather than strategic leverage. The Junta’s unsuccessful attempt to convert the main ceasefire groups into border guard forces under central military command raised worries Beijing feared that thousands of the refugees flooding into China. While most ethnic groups appreciate Beijing’s role in pressuring the Burmese regime the ethnic nationalities believe that China’s support is provisional and driven by its own economic and security interests.

One should remember that Beijing and local Yunnan governments have differing perceptions of and approaches to border management and the ethnic groups. Beijing prioritises border stability and is willing to sacrifice certain local commercial interests, while Yunnan values border trade and profits from its special relationships with ethnic groups. Chinese companies’ resource extraction activities are fostering strong popular resentment because of their lack of transparency and unequal benefit distribution, as well as environmental damage and forced displacement of communities.

When early in 2010 UWSA chairman Bao Youxiang, knowing the treachery of the Burmese Generals refused to meet the Junta`s representatives Beijing intervened and the meeting took place under the watchful eyes of the Chinese. In addition, at least thirteen rounds of negotiations took place between the KIO and the regime but unable to break through. Beijing seems to be in favour of “genuine union” in which the ethnic groups would have autonomy, possibly like the Chinese Special Administrative Regions (SARs).

China observes a “Four No’s” policy towards border groups: no political recognition; no military support; no organisational exchanges; no economic aid. Some members of the ethnic groups justify their drug and other illegal businesses by citing Chinese abandonment. The ethnic believe Chinese involvement might help prevent the government from reneging on any deal reached, and that China would be the “best custodian of a peace process between the ethnic groups and the army.

The Chinese also knew that most Burmese are inclined towards the West. If the situation in Burma is more stable then Burma won’t need China as much. Burma could then turn to other countries for help. But for the moment China is the only external actor that has real leverage with the military regime Beijing’s top concern in Burma is preventing conflict on its border, which could affect China’s domestic stability and regional economic development. While China sees problems with the long-term standoff between the Junta and many of the country’s ethnic groups, its preferred approach to solve the situation is gradual policy adjustment by a strong central government on the basis of internal stability, not liberal democracy or federalism and certainly not regime change.

It has subsequently invested considerable diplomatic resources to facilitate negotiations between the military government and the ethnic groups. The Kokang conflict also deepened differences between Beijing and local Yunnan governments. The capital now seeks to manage relations with the border ethnic groups more directly, by dispatching its own officials. Continued illegal cross border trade by Yunnan companies and government officials also heightens tensions with Beijing. China’s growing demand for energy supplies is making Burma increasingly important as a conduit for Tran’s shipment of oil and a source of natural gas. Chinese companies are also expanding rapidly into Burma’s hydropower sector.

These investments, along with many projects are increasing resentment of China in Burma, due to unequal distribution of benefits, environmental damage and harmful impacts on local communities and traditional ways of life. If China does not act to limit the negative impact of its companies in Burma, it risks increasing tensions in ethnic group areas and possible violent backlash, all of which would undermine its economic and security interests.

The 2nd Panglong Conference is very crucial for the long term peace of Burma because only real democracy and genuine federalism can propel Burma into the family of civilized nations now as modern king Goujain is set to rule the world, the ethno-democratic forces of Burma should solicit the support of the Chinese no matter what they may be. The vision of the founding of modern Burma Bogyoke Aung San’s will have to be carried on by his loving daughter Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and she needs, young intelligentsia and capable persons to help guide the country to achieve its goal or otherwise the cruel Generals would wreck the country and be a Chinese colony but in name.

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