But it was clear very early on that the Burmese government wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Targeting the smallest first, The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, an ethnic Kokang, 1,000-man army based on the Sino-Burma border, was first to go. Within 24 hours the Kokang had been driven from their territory. Their leaders still hide in China. During the elections last year, fighting began with a renegade group from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) that had rejected the BGF. Then, last month, on the border of Kachin territory, the Burmese government attacked the Shan State Army – North, another ethnic group that had rejected the proposal.
As the rainy season ended, the Burmese army renewed military action against the Kachin. Some analysts argued that the new government, which officially took office in February following an election mired by allegations of fraud, would avoid conflict in an attempt to repair their hugely damaged international legitimacy. It appears, however, that little change has actually occurred. The same leaders are controlling the country, with the same military mentality – force not dialogue is seen as the best way to deal with ethnic minorities.
Why has the military dominated government once again risked losing its legitimacy? One theory suggests that some members of the Burmese government or military are unhappy with the potential reforms, which would reduce their power. In order to destroy the legitimacy of the new government and maintain the status quo, they may have encouraged other government factions to launch the offensive. The ethnic conflicts that haunt Burma have long given the military a claim to legitimacy, as without conflict there’s no need for the military. Since independence, the ethnic armies argue that the Burmese have always sought to exert control over them. Another theory suggests that the Burmese army was only trying to take back territory needed for Chinese hydropower plants and didn’t anticipate an escalation of the conflict, which they thought could be contained.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Publicly, China has shown impartiality toward the conflict and has been urging the parties to take steps to ease tensions. At first, they simply demanded Chinese citizens were kept safe. Then, when the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) ceasefire broke down on June 9, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman urged the two parties to ‘exercise restraint’ and ‘resolve the relevant disputes through peaceful negotiations.’
However, behind closed doors, many are suspicious about China’s true stance. Unlike the United Stated Wa Army (USWA), which has adopted many of China's systems, the Kachin is composed of Baptist Christians, is pro-democracy and close with the West. And as the Kachin protested in March against the creation of the hydropower projects over fears of mass displacement and the environmental impact, China may now see the KIA as an obstacle to domestic development. Despite the KIA not showing any resistance to various other Chinese projects in Kachin state, and having enjoyed a healthy business relationship with China for nearly two decades, many suspect that during a recent high level meeting between Naypyidaw and Beijing, a tacit blessing was given to attack the Kachin.
In the meeting, the official Xinhua News Agency reports that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called ‘for the smooth implementation of infrastructure projects.’ Only a few weeks later, the conflict erupted as Burmese soldiers entered into the Kachin territory surrounding the Chinese backed Myitsone dam.