Myanmar has accused a “foreign country” of arming the nation’s rebel groups, including the Arkan Army (AA). Hinting at China’s active role, Myanmar has alleged that Beijing is supplying sophisticated military weapons to create insurgency in the nation.
It is reported that Brig Gen Zaw Min Tun, the spokesperson for Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) has stated that a “foreign country” is behind the Arkan Army, which is a declared terrorist organisation. He reasons his claim by citing an incident from 2019 where modern technologies were utilised by Arkan Army, in mine attacks on the military in Rakhine state.
It was also revealed by U Min Zaw Oo, the executive director of Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security that a majority of the weapons used by Myanmar ethnic armed groups operating near the Chinese border are made in China.
Recently, the Myanmar military had uncovered that most of the seized weapons from an ethnic group called Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in November 2019 were all Chinese made.
Myanmar’s Major General Tun Tun Nyi had said — “Most of them are Chinese and the total value is high. I would say the TNLA has illegally acquired weapons from China.” The weapons that consisted of RPGs and FN6 anti-aircraft launchers were priced between US$70,000 (106 million kyats) and US$90,000 each
U Min Zaw Oo told media that “Authorities of Yunnan Province and the armed groups might have economic connections. Some corrupt authorities might sell the arms to the groups. Another way is allowing the trade of arms in the black market.”
China’s involvement in Myanmar’s internal politics
The 2016-2017 Rohingya crisis had wrecked Myanmar’s relations with the west as the nation and its leaders were criticised globally. Political analysts believe that the deadly crisis pushed Myanmar to rely both diplomatically and economically on China.
K. Yhome, a Senior Fellow with ORF’s Neighbourhood Regional Studies Initiative mentions that “Some analysts have explained it (China’s role in Myanmar’s politics) by exploring the factors determining the variations in China’s responses. Some are of the view that the level of China’s response is proportionate to the intensity of conflicts and its effects on the Chinese side of the border, while others see a link between Chinese domestic nationalism and its foreign policy.”
China’s premier Xi Jinping’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) had found its way into Myanmar at this opportunistic time and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) was finalised.
However, experts speculate that many of the projects under the CMEC are located in or near areas of active armed conflict. G Parthasarathy, former High Commissioner to Pakistan writes – China is “interfering in Myanmar’s internal affairs by providing a safe haven, with political and armed support, to several separatist insurgent groups. China is also seeking to play the role of a mediator in negotiations between the Myanmar government and the separatist outfits.”
The Indian connection
Myanmar is also one of the countries which gained independence in the late 1940s and has made its way through harsh colonisation. Experts believe that while Pakistan acts as terror instigator to India, China does the same with Myanmar.
It is reported that China is arming, training and financing the 23,000-strong Mandarin-speaking United Wa State Army which operates along China’s borders with Myanmar’s Shan.
Parthasarathy claims that “The Chinese are also allowing territory in Yunnan, bordering Myanmar and India, to provide support for a condominium of armed groups.
These Myanmar-based groups, described as members of Myanmar’s ‘Northern Alliance’, also operate across the Myanmar-India border. They support groups operating in India’s Northeast, like ULFA and NSCN (K)”