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Feb 15, 2013 | 16:35 GMT

Chinese Involvement in Northern Myanmar

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Chinese Involvement in Northern Myanmar

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Feb. 4 that the Myanmar government and the ethnic Kachin Independence Army rebel group had held a new round of talks in the border town of Ruili in China's Yunnan province. Unlike previous negotiations, which were mostly presided over by provincial officials, representatives from China's central government, including delegations from the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry, reportedly chaired the latest round. This signals new involvement on Beijing's part in Kachin conflicts and perhaps in the broader ethnic situation in northern Myanmar. Until recently, Beijing — one of the most important stakeholders in Kachin state — remained largely reticent regarding the conflicts that have erupted since the Myanmar military's offensive there began in June 2011. Nonetheless, the escalating tensions in Kachin state coupled with the Myanmar military's growing assertiveness toward ethnic groups in recent months have put Beijing in an increasingly uncomfortable position. Driven by Naypyidaw's appetite for unity among its various ethnic rebels, the military offensive in Kachin exemplified Beijing's growing challenges after years of unilateral engagement with the Myanmar government: Not only is the border region harder to stabilize because of Naypyidaw's military actions, but ethnic forces are more strongly resisting Chinese involvement because of Beijing's reluctance to take their political and economic interests into account. As a result, Beijing has found its large investment projects in Kachin state, such as the Myitsone dam projects near Myitkyina, increasingly held hostage by ethnic conflicts.

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