On March 28, China’s military carried out drills along its border with Myanmar in what state media described as a demonstration of Beijing’s resolve to protect its people amid growing instability.
As I’ve written previously, the China-Myanmar border is a sensitive issue for both countries. China desires stability along the 2,200 kilometer border, which is both frequently plagued by conflict, drugs, and disease and also hosts the border trade that is important to southwestern Yunnan province and Chinese nationals in Myanmar (See: “China’s Strategic Recalibration in Myanmar”). But conflict between the Myanmar government and ethnic militias in northern Myanmar often spills over into China, leading to strong rebukes from Beijing. China has also not been shy about leveraging its links with some ethnic groups and exerting its influence over an ongoing peace process in Myanmar.
In recent months, fighting in Myanmar once again pushed thousands of people across the border into China. In response, China has publicly expressed its expectation that all parties exercise restraint and move toward a ceasefire to ensure peace and stability in the border. Earlier this month, the Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing had settled and offered assistance to over 20,000 border area residents who had fled Myanmar. Talks have also been held by the foreign and defense ministries at various levels in recent months.
On Tuesday, Xinhua reported that the Southern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had staged an air-ground live-fire drill in “south China, close to the border with Myanmar.”
According to the report, the joint drill – which saw participation from armored infantry, artillery, air defense, army aviation, and air force – was carried out as part of an annual training schedule and was “aimed at testing the troops’ capabilities in rapid maneuver, precise destruction, vertical blockade, and joint strike.”
Few details were available about the exercise, including its exact location. But Colonel Fang Xin of the Southern Theater Command reportedly said that the drill “demonstrated the PLA’s resolve and will in safeguarding national security in [the] border area and air defense and protecting people’s safety and their property.” Xinhua also quoted unnamed military sources as saying that the Chinese authorities had informed Myanmar of the drills before they began.