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Junta’s control of Myanmar is seriously threatened with implosion

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Fascinating article on a subject that has largely disappeared from the international media and which is far more complex than merely a national junta taking and seeking to keep power. I just wonder about Barry Kenyon's remarks on China. We know that the last thing China wants, barring internal revolution, is trouble on its borders. It needs a degree of stability in Myanmar and that was the reason for its initial considerable support to the army. This is more true because China already had a great deal of activity going on in Myanmar prior to the start of the coup, much of it illegal. A number of US-based websites have suggested that, as Kenyon remarks, support for the military is now waning in favour of supporting both sides in the conflict.

One of China's major concerns is the junta's continuing support - deliberately against China's expressed desire - of forced-labour camps near the border, many with Chinese and Chinese-backed so-called rebels. 

Over the summer, China raised the stakes by giving the Chinese media and film industry a green light to dramatize the chaos in Myanmar with popular films illuminating the fate of Chinese nationals who ended up in one of the thousands of forced-labor scam compounds now lining Myanmar’s borders. The films — “No More Bets,” “Tainted Love” and “Lost in the Stars” — have netted more than $1 billion at the box office, sending the message that Chinese nationals can only be safe in Southeast Asia with China’s help. The reality, of course, is that China deliberately looked the other way while this problem incubated. For over a decade, billions of dollars in illicit Chinese capital fueled the development of gambling enclaves under the pretense of supporting Chinese political and economic aims, while also winning the useful backing of corrupt local elites throughout the region . . .

Beijing began acting unilaterally in September, focusing on two border enclaves that enjoy the highest levels of autonomy from central control, the Wa and Mong La areas in Northern Shan State. Both are controlled by powerful local armies and fall well within China’s sphere of influence. They use Chinese currency, electricity, internet and telecommunications, and in the case of the Wa, Chinese-created banking system. The elites of both areas have been trained largely in China, and many have Chinese national ID cards.

China acted against the Wa and the Mong in an attempt to crack down on the forced labout camps. Both fell into line. But not the national military government. It still holds between 20,000 and 30,000 Chinese in over 100 forced-labour camps in an area the size of Rhode Island. But as often happens, China's influence can be seen as a two-edged sword.

. . . signs of increased Chinese security influence should concern all groups in Myanmar. While the anti-coup movement is united for now in its central aim to remove the military from government, should unity and coordination among the disparate resistance groups break down in the future, it could risk Chinese manipulation, playing one party against another, to assert Chinese national interest over that of Myanmar. This is perhaps one of the strongest incentives for resistance actors to consolidate and expand alliances rapidly, formally adopting agreed political visions.


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