China’s Impact on Rebel Group’s Victory in Northern Myanmar

The Three Brotherhood Alliance of Myanmar rebel groups used a slogan to gain support from China, which shares a border with Kokang, a region in Shan state. China has expressed frustration with organized crime rings operating in the area, which have held around 120,000 people against their will.

The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, along with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army, has tried and failed twice to retake the region. The initial success of the rebel campaign has led analysts to speculate that it may have received Chinese backing.

China’s leaders may have sought to strengthen its position in the Kokang region by removing the threat of scam compounds. The new leaders of Kokang, who were ousted in 2009, were believed to better reflect China’s interests. After the collapse of the Communist Party of Burma, local warlord Peng Jiasheng shifted allegiance to the junta, granting the region autonomy. Bai Suocheng, his second-in-command, allowed government troops to station in Kokang, granting residents Myanmar nationality. This led to the emergence of organized scam operations.

Over 40,000 Chinese nationals were arrested in Shan state for involvement with online scams. In December, China’s Ministry of Public Security released another wanted list, naming 10 individuals in connection with the scams, signaling Beijing’s growing impatience with Myanmar’s handling of the scam rings and favoring leaders in Kokang more aligned with its national interests.

After the death of his father, Peng Jiasheng, the leader of the MNDAA, resurfaced as the leader of the Alliance against Myanmar’s military strongholds in northern Myanmar. His son, Peng Denren, took over and launched “Operation 1027” to reclaim control of his father’s lost territory. The rebel forces seized over 300 military bases, around a dozen towns, and won control of several key trade routes with the neighboring Chinese province of Yunnan.

Myanmar’s junta chief claimed that the ethnic-minority armed groups were getting outside assistance, using “drones with advanced technology” to attack junta positions and were aided by “foreign drone experts.” However, Li Jiawen, a spokesman for the MNDAA, denied the offensive was aided by China.

Even China’s tacit approval of the operation is important, as it allowed the flow of money and goods in Shan state that helped to sustain the rebels to continue. This may have had a psychological effect on the morale of junta forces, as they would have suffered when they realized the difficulty of sustaining control without China’s approval. The fact that China did not stop the rebels carries a lot of currency, sending a message that China is not completely happy with the junta at this time.

China has emphasized its primary focus in Myanmar, focusing on stability and supporting the junta in the broader struggle for control. China’s vice foreign minister, Sun Weidong, flew to Myanmar on January 4 after a stray missile landed in a Chinese border town, injuring three Chinese citizens. He met with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and held talks with Myanmar counterpart Lun Wu about the situation in northern Myanmar.

Sun’s arrival marked the junta’s announcement to transfer control of the Kokang Autonomous Region headquarters to the MNDAA. The months-long struggle for Laukkai had come to an end, with the formal cessation of hostilities beginning two days ago. Videos provided by sources close to the MNDAA show Myanmar military personnel handing over weapons and ammunition to the MNDAA before lining up for withdrawal.

Analyst Deng Yuwen suggested that the scene might be an example of junta realpolitik, as the place still needs to develop its economy before it can finally be safe. If the economy doesn’t grow, other issues will arise over time, which China doesn’t want to see.

The Myanmar National Defence Academy (MNDAA) is focusing on restoring law and order in Laukkai, Myanmar, as part of its plans for the city. Li Jiawen, the MNDAA’s chief, stated that efforts to combat scam operations are ongoing, with most members of the Bai family and their associates fleeing to Myanmar’s capital. He expressed gratitude to China for their mediation and involvement in negotiations with the Myanmar military.

The junta military, however, is aiming to get back on China’s side, declaring its commitment to a “one China policy” after Taiwanese voters supported a political party supporting an independent Taiwan in the recent presidential race. The junta also opposes separatist activities aimed at Taiwan independence and foreign interference in other states’ internal affairs.

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