China could play a role in Myanmar peace process

By Bi Shihong Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/14 12:13:39

Last week, the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) held a meeting in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, during which the second installment of the 21st-Century Panglong Conference was scheduled for February 28. Participants agreed to invite approximately 800 delegates to attend the peace conference and motivate the country's armed ethnic groups that have not signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) to agree to it as soon as possible.

The first 21st-Century Panglong Conference commenced in Nay Pyi Taw in late August of last year. Approximately 750 stakeholders including the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, the military, ethnic armed groups and different parties participated in it and the ethnic armed groups expressed their views.

Since the NLD government took office, it only came up with a few effective measures to boost the country's economy. The government is also facing blame from the international community for the Rohingya problem. The conflict between domestic Muslims and Buddhists seems to be escalating. U Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer and a legal advisor to the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was fatally shot at Yangon International Airport in late January. This prompted the NLD government to speed up national reconciliation.

Although ethnic reconciliation is a priority for the NLD government, it can hardly achieve a breakthrough in the short term, given the lack of authority of the government in the process, the tough stance from the military, internal divergence within the ethnic armed groups, and a lack of trust among all parties.

The reconciliation roadmap proposed by the NLD government only focuses on principles, while it has no concrete implementation plans, which has aroused dissatisfaction from many armed ethnic groups.

It is unclear whether the groups that have not signed the NCA will attend the Panglong conference. The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a coalition of seven armed ethnic groups, claimed that it will hold on to consultations and seek national peace with the NLD government.

The reason that ethnic armed groups like the ones in UNFC refuse to sign the NCA is rooted in the misunderstanding between them and the government and the military. Only frequent and close communications on an equal footing can boost mutual understanding and deepen mutual trust.

In a multi-ethnic country, the ethnic majority must show tolerance and care toward minority groups. The ethnic minority areas in northern Myanmar lag behind other regions of the country in economic and social development. The NLD government should pay more attention to these areas and improve people's livelihood, so as to enhance ethnic minorities' sense of identity.

Ethnic minority groups, on the other hand, should prioritize national interests and safeguard sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Ethnic reconciliation and peace in Myanmar is not only important to the country itself, but also vital to security and stability along the China-Myanmar border as well as to the friendly cooperation between the two countries.

China has played a mediating role in the reconciliation process. It has been persuading armed ethnic groups in northern Myanmar to join the peace process. In 2016, China's Special Envoy on Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang frequently visited Myanmar and kept close contact with the NLD government, the military and armed ethnic forces.

In late 2016, the mechanism of bilateral 2+2 high-level consultation led by the foreign and defense ministries was initiated to maintain peace and stability in border areas. This also shows China's support for Myanmar's peace process.

Coincidently, on the second day after the UPDJC meeting, China and Myanmar held a new round of 2+2 meeting in Kunming, less than three months after the first one.

In Myanmar's reconciliation process in the future, China should take into account Myanmar's development needs and provide assistance accordingly. It can continue to play a mediating role among all stakeholders and draw a red line when necessary. As a major power, China should also shoulder more responsibilities and provide humanitarian aid.

The author is a professor at the School of International Studies and the Center for China's Neighbor Diplomacy Studies at Yunnan University. Follow us on Twitter at @GTopinion


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