China seen as trying to control Myanmar by arming insurgents

In this file photo leaders of the Arakan Army ethnic rebel group, gather with other rebel leaders and representatives of various Myanmar ethnic rebel groups at the opening of a four-day conference in Mai Ja Yang, a town controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Kachin State on 26 July, 2016. (STR / AFP Photo)

(, Jul03’20) – Myanmar is one of China’s closest allies in Southeast Asia. But that has not prevented Beijing from arming insurgent groups with sophisticated weapons in Myanmar; its suspected aim being to keep its ostensible close ally under control.

In a recent interview to Russian state-run TV channel Zvezda, Myanmar’s Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has said terrorist organisations active in Myanmar were being backed by ‘strong forces’ and sought international cooperation to suppress rebel groups.

The reference to ‘strong forces’ was widely seen to be a reference to Myanmar’s neighbour in the north, China, noted Jul 2.

The “terrorist organisations” were stated to refer to Arakan Army and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), groups that are active in the Rakhine State in western Myanmar that borders China.

A ‘foreign country’ is behind the Arakan Army, Myanmar military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun has said, citing China-made weapons that terror group used in mine attacks on the military in 2019.

The report noted that while it was unusual for the Myanmar leadership to point fingers at China, this was not the first time Naypyitaw had alluded to the Chinese connection.

It noted that when the Myanmar military busted a huge cache of weapons including surface-to-air missiles – each costing between USD 70,000 and 90,000 – from the banned Ta’ang National Liberation Army in Nov 2019, the military had underlined the Chinese connection to the weapons.

Most of the weapons seized by the force are “Chinese weapons,” military spokesperson Major General Tun Tun Nyi was reported to have declared.

The report noted that the Myanmarese ethnic rebel groups operating along the Chinese border mostly use Chinese weapons, prompting suspicions about Beijing’s role as part of an effort to keep Myanmar under control.

It said China’s denials of supplying the weapons were being treated with scepticism in Myanmar.

When senior General Hlaing had flagged Myanmar’s concerns around these weapons when hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Jan 2020, Xi was stated to have promised that China would “carefully scrutinise” matters and “solve the problem”, pointing out that there were other ways for the rebels to acquire Chinese weapons.

The report noted that Xi’s suggestion was seen in Myanmar as part of an elaborate exercise by China to keep its smaller neighbour “unstable”.

There has been a view in Naypyitaw that China was using its influence with the terror groups as a bargaining chip for smooth implementation of Belt and Road Initiative projects.

The report cited officials as saying Beijing has been desperate to push the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor that seeks to give China a strategic opening on to the Bay of Bengal and eastern part of Indian Ocean Region.

There was also stated to be some concern around the Chinese loans extended to execute these projects that led to worries that Myanmar shouldn’t land in China’s debt trap.


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