According to Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, North Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, many of the Kachin feel politically marginalised and economically disadvantaged even as they are seeing an increase in Chinese investment in their region. ‘Lack of local participation in development decisions and the absence of transparency around many projects have contributed to the build-up of ethnic tension in the region,’ she says. ‘Moreover, the construction of hydropower projects and the major gas and oil pipelines has also increased the militarisation of the ethnic areas in which they’re located or traverse, as Naypyidaw and Chinese companies seek to protect the security of this infrastructure.’
Seeing China’s concerns over its investments, the Burmese government hasn’t held back on using this as an excuse for the conflict. Burmese state media recently stated, ‘The only objective of the Tatmadaw in launching attacks on the KIA was to protect its members and import hydropower to the nation without any intention of aggression or oppression.’
It’s still unconfirmed whether China gave the green light to the Burmese army, but it’s clear which side they’re on. Kachin leaders recently sent a letter to Beijing asking it to mediate peace between the two sides, but are yet to receive any reply on the matter. The Kachin News Group (KNG) recently reported that a meeting was held between Burmese and Chinese officials on the Sino-Burma border, where it was agreed that Burmese soldiers could enter Chinese soil to launch an attack on Liaza, the KIA headquarters. Then, on June 29, KNG reported that hundreds of Burmese soldiers were seen passing through several Chinese checkpoints in civilian uniform.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The news site is run by Kachin exiles, and the validity of information disputed.If the news is true, however, it could spell disaster for Kachin people seeking refuge in the border area. Already, over 13,000 refugees have fled to KIA territory fearing torture by the Burmese army, or being captured and taken to be porters on the frontline, as has been widely documented in other ethnic conflicts throughout the country. Many of these refugees are farmers who have had to leave behind their farmlands, and will lose their livelihoods if they can’t return. As the conflict rages on, bridges have been destroyed, communications have been disrupted, and trade routes closed, further increasing difficulties for people across Kachin state. And in recent weeks, news has emerged of women being raped by Burmese soldiers, and civilians being killed.
While fighting has subsided somewhat, there’s still a real danger of the conflict escalating into all-out war. The KIA repeatedly blames Naypyidaw’s unwillingness to enter into sincere dialogue as a driving factor for the ongoing conflict. According to the leading Burmese news site, The Irrawaddy, whose correspondent attended a meeting on June 30 between KIA leaders and Col. Than Aung, the Kachin State Minister for border affairs of the Burmese government, Than Aung wasn’t carrying official documents, and when asked to provide formal evidence that Naypyidaw would consider ending the hostilities, said he would have to consult, ‘higher authorities.’ Following the meeting, on July 3, the KIA issued an order to stop all attacks on state soldiers and infrastructure while they wait for an official response from Naypyidaw. However, in the article, the author, Ba Kaung says there’s little hope in the KIA that a ceasefire will be reached, citing a lack of trust.