(5-9 April 2017)

First OBSERVE

Then SERVE

Linda K.Burton (1952-)

Two invitations came last March which enabled me to make another trip back to the country I have come to call Hopeland:

  • One, to attend the “China-Myanmar Scholars Dialogue for Promoting Peace and Stability in Myanmar,” which was being jointly organized by Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS) and Centre for Human Dialogue (HD)
  • Two, to attend a public event to discuss a draft bill recently published in newspapers proposing amendments to the 1993 drug law. It was being jointly organized by the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) and the Drug Policy Advocacy Group Myanmar (DPAG).

China and Drugs have for long been subjects close to my heart, for I have always believed that unless the two are properly treated, the country will still be a long, long way from being one fit to live, let alone becoming a Switzerland in the east.

This journal tries to inform the reader what I had learned there.

Participants at the China-Myanmar Scholars Dialogue, 6 April 2017. (Photo: Aung Myo Htwe)

Day One, Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Life is really simple.

But we insist on making it complicated

Confucius (551-479 BC)

Nothing much to say for today except that I meet friends to review on the by-elections that were held 4 days earlier.

From them, I learn at least one thing: In the Burman dominated lowlands, it is not about the peace process like in the highlands, but about the economy that will more than likely determine which party and candidate the voter will choose in 2020.

Day Two. Thursday, 6 April 2017

Each nation feels superior to other nations.

That breeds patriotism—and wars.

Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)

The China-Myanmar Scholars’ Dialogue is held at the meeting hall of the MISIS, also known as Myanmar ISIS.

As to be expected, the first question I ask is: “Why of all the acronyms in this world, Myanmar ISIS?” To which one of our host is ready with an answer, accompanied by a laugh. “Because we’re out to destroy the other ISIS.”

The institute was set up in 1992 by Gen Khin Nyunt, as Office of Strategic Studies (OSS), he informs me. He doesn’t say when the name change took place, however. But I guess that won’t be hard to guess.

Burmese commanders have sent tens of thousands of troops into the mountainous region, supported by aircraft and artillery. (Photo:FP)

Understandably, about half of the 30 or so participants are members of the MISIS. Among the non-MISIS are members of HD, 4 Chinese scholars, and others. Which include myself. The following are excerpts from the first presenters:

Chinese scholar#1           Armed conflicts that began in 2009 have disturbed peace and stability along

the 2,192 km border:

8 August 2009    –              with MNDAA

June 2011            –              with KIA

February 2015   –              with MNDAA

November 2016-              with NAB

March 2017         –              with MNDAA

5 Chinese citizens were killed and 8 injured. Economic projects suspended. Local governments bearing big burden for refugees.

  • Immediate stop to military actions necessary in order to resettle refugees and promote peace, stability and development along the border. The Tatmadaw and the EAOs will also do better to talk peace instead of making war
  • But there is a problem: China can only play a constructive role for all stakeholders, and the Tatmadaw is not satisfied with China’s efforts
  • With mutual trust between us, China can do more. Unfortunately, at present, it is still unclear about Naypyitaw’s policy toward it
  • We now have a 2+2 arrangement (defense and foreign affairs of each side meeting once a year, or more if necessary) but it is not enough, because it can only implement policies from above but cannot initiate. We need a top level arrangement

Myanmar scholar#1

  • The EAOs, if they are deprived of support, cannot survive
  • We enjoy good relations on the G-to-G level. But on the people-to-people level, no.

Reading between the lines, the presentations by the two scholars seem to have summed up the whole lot of discussions that followed today: No trust exists between the two who need each other so much.

Presentations by others, including mine, are just appendices to the two’s. That’s how they look to me, anyway. Let’s see what they are:

Chinese side

  • Beijing does not support weapons to Wa or Kokang. Ordinary people may be helping them without Beijing or Kunming’s knowledge.
  • China wants peace in Myanmar so that it can engage in economic development
  • With regards to the West involvement in Myanmar Peace Process, our stand is that we cannot interfere in US-Mexican trans-border affairs,

    Kachin Independence Army leader General Gun Maw, left, walks with Chinese Special Envoy Sun Guoxiang as leaders and representatives of various ethnic armed groups arrive for the opening of a four-day conference in Mai Ja Yang. (AFP)

    because we don’t have stakes in them. Correspondingly, armed conflicts in Myanmar impact China/Myanmar relations, but nothing to the West. So why should we want to involve them? (Note: He names US, UK, Japan, EU and others, but not India) As for UN, we have no objection.

  • We need every means we can to promote our relations. For instance, there are lots of Chinese restaurants in Yangon, but no Myanmar restaurants in Beijing. We should do something about it.
  • For EAOs to sign the NCA, we can persuade, but no more. It’s not only the Myanmar government that distrusts China. When Mr Sun Guoxiang, China’s special envoy, asks the EAOs to stop fighting and sign the NCA, they think China is working for the Myanmar government. Both sides seem to suspect China is on the other side.

Myanmar side

  • Thailand and Myanmar have good relations. The result of it is that conflicts on the border have come to a complete halt. We hope China can do the same.
  • As long as clashes continue, bilateral relations will be difficult to improve, as there are widespread reports and images of support coming to the rebels from across the border. EAOs along the Chinese border are stronger because they have arms factories there. On the other hand, those along the Thai border are weaker, because they can’t establish armeds factories there. Even if they have sufficient funds, buying arms from across Thailand is not easy.
  • As for the three EAOs (AA, MNDAA and TNLA), the Tatmadaw used to demand that they lay down arms. But that was before the new government took office. Since then, it has only requested them to renounce the armed struggle and lock up their firearms along the border, no need to surrender them to the Tatmadaw.
  • There’s a Global Times article dated 8 March 2017. The author Yu Ning wrote that China had lost Kokang to Myanmar due to the boundary treaty in 1960. As though giving up Kokang was a mistake like the Russians did with Crimea. Which wasn’t true. (Kokang had been part of British Shan States since the Sino-British treaty was signed in 1894 —Author’s note)
  • There are some things we can learn from China. Wa in Yunnan have good relations with the Han majority, but not those in Myanmar.
  • What’s the next step?

The 2 plus 2 arrangement has limitations, because it is too formal. Each side sticks to its own policies and go home. They have never got to the point of resolving the issues.

Toward the end of the day, Dr Kong Jianxun, who happens to be from the Hani ethnic group, known in Myanmar as Akha, proposes that a joint border fact finding team be formed, as a first step, to ascertain facts from myths, which is seconded by several Myanmar scholars, who add that HD should fund the project. The latter promises to consider the request.

The day ends with a dinner party at a restaurant called Hong Bao, but also strangely known as Water Library, which I have yet to find out how it came to be named as such.

The one thing I remember from the party is a remark from a former rebel friend, who still have contacts along the Chinese border and across. “The Wa has become another North Korea for the Chinese,” he says. “They are Chinese protégés, but they don’t always listen to China’s advice.”

At 21:00, I’m back in my hotel room.