Myanmar: China Demands More Juice, Less Dope

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June 16, 2012:  Three weeks of ethnic and religious violence in the northwest ( Rakhine State, the northwestern coast just south of Bangladesh) have left at least 29 dead (16 Moslems, 13 Buddhists), over a hundred wounded, over 3,000 buildings burned, and more than 30,000 people driven from their homes. The two groups have never gotten along and there's always been some tension. Until recently the military government suppressed any open talk of these tensions. But since the elections last year, there's been more freedom of the press and that has included more public discussion by Buddhists about how much they dislike the Rohingyas.

Rakhine State has a population of 3.8 million, with about 800,000 of them Moslems, mostly Rohingyas. These are Benglais. Or people from Bengal (now Bangladesh) who began migrating to Burma during the 19th century. At that time the British colonial government ran Bangladesh and Burma and allowed this movement, even though the Buddhist Burmese opposed it. Britain recognized the problem too late, and the Bengali Moslems were still in Burma when Britain gave up its South Asian colonies after World War II (1939-45). Bangladesh has refused to take these Moslems back, and they have come to consider themselves a separate group: the Rohingya. Burma never let the Rohingya become citizens, which helped stoke tensions between the Moslems and Buddhists. Bangladesh has long had too many people and illegal migration to neighboring areas has been a growing problem.  In the 1990s, an outbreak of violence led to over a quarter million Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. Some 28,000 are in refugee camps in Bangladesh, another 200,000 live outside the camps in Bangladesh and some are in Thailand, where they are considered economic migrants and thus illegal. Efforts to send the Rohingya back to Myanmar have failed.

India is asking for some cooperation from Burma to halt the growing drug smuggling along their largely unguarded 1,643 kilometer long border. India recently agreed to increase trade and investment in Burma. In return, India wants some help with the drug problem. India also wants the Burmese to shut down bases used by Indian tribal rebels. These are set up on the Burmese side of the border, so the rebels can raid into India. China also wants something done about drug smuggling from Burma. The Chinese noted that there is 40 percent more land growing poppies in northern Burma this year, compared to last, and most of the resulting heroin and opium is smuggled into China. This is an ancient problem. China conducted its first opium crackdown in this area three centuries ago.

The Chinese are paying Burmese soldiers in the north to provide additional security for natural gas and petroleum pipeline construction, as well as hydroelectric dams being built in the north. The Kachin tribal rebels up there shut down the $3.6 billion dam project nine months ago but the pipelines (going from China to the Bay of Bengal coast) are still on schedule. This is partly because the Chinese paid Burmese soldiers are being particularly brutal with any tribal peoples who get close to the Chinese workers and equipment. Meanwhile, work on Chinese hydroelectric dams is still halted and much construction equipment is still out in the bush, waiting for orders to resume work. That is costing the Chinese a lot of money. The government is trying to negotiate a new peace deal with the Kachin rebels but is not having a lot of success. The government has screwed the Kachin so many times in the past that it is difficult to generate sufficient trust to make a deal. The Chinese are unhappy because the renewed fighting least year sent over 10,000 Kachin fleeing into China to avoid the Burmese troops. Work on the dams has been halted since last September. Burmese in general are angry about the Chinese hydroelectric dams because all the electricity will go to China. There is a serious shortage of electricity in Burma, and Burmese wonder why the Chinese are allowed to build these dams and export all the electricity. In addition, the Kachin have been blowing up electricity transmission lines from the north, in an attempt to get the government's attention about the Kachin rebellion and the Chinese dam projects. The Kachin attacks make the power shortages in the south worse.

The newly elected Burmese government is still seen as a clever ploy by the generals to maintain their control over the country without being tagged a military dictatorship. The new government is not as restrictive and arbitrary but the generals still appear to have the final say.

June 14, 2012: Violence in Rakhine State declined but did not disappear entirely.

June 10, 2012: A state of emergency was declared in Rakhine State, which allowed soldiers to be sent in to help police keep order. Five battalions of troops had already arrived the day before.

June 8, 2012: In Rakhine State mobs of Rohingyas began burning homes in Buddhist villages. This brought out Buddhist mobs who fought back.

May 28, 2012: In Rakhine State (the northeastern coast just south of Bangladesh) three Moslem men raped and killed a Buddhist woman. This triggered a widespread anger among local Buddhists in Rakhine.

May 27, 2012: For the first time in 25 years, the Indian premier visited Burma. India and Burma signed a series of economic cooperation agreements, mainly to the benefit of Burma. All this is the result of the Burmese elections last year and an Indian desire to counter Chinese economic and diplomatic inroads in Burma.

May 23, 2012: In the north the SSA-S (Shan State Army-South) and the Burmese army gunmen briefly exchanged fire when soldiers, pursuing army deserters, entered a SSA-S held village. The army apologized and backed off.  

May 19, 2012: In the north the SSA-S (Shan State Army-South) and the Burmese army signed a ceasefire.

 

 

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