Fri 22 Feb 2013
Filed under: News,Regional
Chinese army units have been undergoing intense training near the border with Myanmar in anticipation of an ethnic war there spilling into China’s southwest, according to official Chinese news media reports on Friday. The training has been taking place in the hills of Yunnan Province, which borders Kachin State in northern Myanmar, where a civil war between an ethnic Kachin rebel army and the Burmese Army has been unfolding. The fighting intensified in late December, and Chinese officials and news organizations reported that shells had landed within the Chinese border and Kachin refugees had begun living in hotels and the homes of family and friends in Yunnan.
Last month, the Myanmar government announced a cease-fire with the Kachin Independence Army in order to hold peace talks, but foreigners in the area reported continuing attacks by the Burmese Army in the days after.
One Chinese news report on Friday said there had been “no significant improvement” in the peace talks.
The goal of the military training in Yunnan was to ensure that the Chinese army units can “fight a battle, and be victorious in battle,” according to a report on Thursday by Xinhua, the state news agency that was cited by several other news Web sites.
The Xinhua report said the training began this month, after the start of the Lunar New Year, and has focused on preparing border guards for “real combat.” Among other things, the soldiers have trained to march in bad weather and work in areas that have blind spots for communications signals.
The report said the hilly terrain in Yunnan presented special challenges, and troops were training to fight in the jungle, ravines and water. Some units have been setting up communications posts along the border.
Earlier, Yunnan military leaders set up a command center in the area. An article in January on the Web site of People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, said border guards and police officers could be seen everywhere checking the identification cards of civilians. Many businesses had shut down because transportation was halted, and artillery fire could be heard through the night, the article said.
Chinese leaders have been emphasizing in general that the Chinese military should be prepared to fight and should proceed vigorously with modernization. Xi Jinping, the new leader of the Communist Party, visited army and navy units in southern China late last year and spoke of the need to strengthen the military.
The current round of fighting in Kachin State has centered on the town of Laiza, from which the Kachin army controls an autonomous swath of the state. This winter, the Burmese Army has been pressing an offensive to capture Laiza or crucial military positions around it. The army has deployed fighter jets and heavy artillery, and residents have said civilians were killed.
Until a flare-up in tensions in June 2011, the Burmese military and Kachin rebels, who insist on maintaining autonomy, had been adhering to a 17-year cease-fire.
Chinese officials have expressed concern this winter over the violence, especially over artillery shells falling within Yunnan; at least four have landed since Dec. 30. In addition, there are worries about a potential flood of refugees.
Thousands of Kachin, who are mostly Christian, entered Yunnan after the war started again in 2011. Chinese Christians went to the refugee camps to provide aid, as did ethnic Kachin living in China, who are called Jingpo in Mandarin. Then in August, officials in Yunnan forced most of the refugees to leave the camps and return to Kachin State.
Thein Sein, the president of Myanmar and a former general, has been trying to introduce democratic practices to the nation’s authoritarian political system. But ethnic civil wars have afflicted the country for decades, and the continuing conflicts raise questions about whether the demands of ethnic minorities like the Kachin will be given serious consideration by the evolving ethnic Burmese-dominated government.