Thousands of Myanmar Refugees Stream into China

While refugees still trickle over the border from Burma (Myanmar) into the town of Nansan in Yunnan, the Los Angeles Times looks at how the exodus will affect China-Myanmar relations:

In the past, Beijing has downplayed political, social and human rights problems raised by the West, arguing that these were internal Myanmar issues that didn’t affect regional stability or China’s national interest. This stance may be harder to maintain now that the problem has washed over into Chinese territory.

[…] Northern Myanmar is better off financially than many other parts of the impoverished nation because of smuggling, Chinese investment, trade and other factors. So an attack on the Kokang, the weakest of several armed groups in the area, could win points among voters farther south who envy the area for its relative prosperity.

The attack on a group that is ethnically and linguistically Chinese also may be a way to send a signal to Beijing that Myanmar doesn’t want to be pushed around.

Although this risks awakening the sleeping giant, Myanmar also knows that China’s Communist Party doesn’t want trouble before the nation’s politically sensitive 60th anniversary of party rule.

Furthermore, China recently staked $1 billion on an oil pipeline project through Myanmar, which will likely make Beijing think twice about applying too much pressure on its neighbor.

Al Jazeera reports that ethnic fighters who were involved in clashes with Myanmar government troops are now entering China as well:

The clusters of men, weary and sometimes clutching a few belongings, told the Reuters news agency that fighting continued on Sunday in the Kokang area of northeast Myanmar’s Shan state.

The violence erupted after government troops moved into the enclave, seeking to dislodge local rulers and their militia who have long controlled this mountainous terrain next to China.

Myanmar’s offensive has thrown into question the future of the free-wheeling Kokang buffer zone, which is largely ethnic Chinese and where drug trafficking and gambling have long underpinned the economy.

According to China Daily, the fighting crossed borders when a bomb thrown into China killed one person, while Xinhua reports that refugees are beginning to return to Myanmar:

Myanmar had apologized for Chinese casualties in the incident, thanked the Chinese government for its friendly treatment of Myanmar residents, and promised to protect the safety and legal rights of Chinese citizens in Myanmar, according to the official.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Friday that China hoped Myanmar could properly solve its domestic issues and safeguard the stability of its border with China.

See also a Reuters report:

See an earlier report from the town of Nansan, where the refugees are camping out.

August 30, 2009 5:32 PM
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