Bertil Lintner is a guy who knows a lot about Myanmar. He has been traveling and reporting from there since the last thirty years at least. A couple of days ago this article of his came out on Asia Times Online. It’s about the Kachin ethnic conflict in Burma. Two things impressed me about it.
- Lintner criticizes the competition and lack of synergy between conflict resolution NGOs increasingly getting involved in the Kachin issue. He even suggests that the celebration of Thein Sein which the famous International Crisis Group is organizing next month in New York could be their way to play up to Myanmar’s president and gain a tighter collaboration with him before other peacebuilding actors. Quite a strong j’accuse to the Brussels-based NGO, which I hope is going to clarify its position. Another point Lintner makes, mentions the “lack of understanding” by peacemakers in these agencies “of the root causes of the conflicts” and of the economic interests within the “Myanmar Peace Center”, the Burmese governmental office (also indirectly funded by EU) in charge of the peacebuilding in the country, which – according to the journalist – would have in it “at least six individuals … in pursuit of their private agendas”. Something that definitely needs some further investigation and explanation.
- The second thing that struck me is China’s deep involvement in the issue. Lintner reports PRC to have supplied both Burmese army and ethnic Wa State Army with weapons and to have also put pressures on Kachins for peace talks. Besides, some strong statements by former premier Wen Jiabao and current vice foreign minister Fu Ying, openly asking for an end of the conflict in Kachin state, are reported. Apart from Fu Ying, some other prominent figures in Beijing’s diplomatic ranks like Wang Yingfan or ambassador Luo Zhaohui have paid visits to Myanmar to inspect the progress of peace dialogues. All these moves seem to me a blatant transgression to the principle of non-interference on which Beijing so eagerly insists when discussing its foreign policy. Okay, one could argue that China has some fair point in this case, since its trade routes with Myanmar, jeopardized by the Kachin conflicts, and its internal security, which a humanitarian crisis right on its border and even in its own territory (as there are some Kachin refugee communities just before the frontier with Myanmar) are at stake. However, these seem to me too weak reasons to justify such a strong involvement and transgression to its standard foreign policy rules. PRC’s moves sound much more plausible if we consider the harsh competition with the US for influence in Burma, which has been going on since the country announced its gradual opening one year ago. Since the “country of peacocks” now seems to be leaning much more towards America, this could have given Beijing some reasons to try a more energetic approach with Naypyidaw, even at the risk of exposing inconsistencies in their foreign policy. In the end, China can always resort to its proverbial rhetoric to fix them.