China and Burma pledge border stability

Oct 20, 2009 (DVB), China and Burma have agreed to work together to strengthen border stability following an outbreak of fighting in August that strained relations between the two countries.

The pledge was made yesterday during a meeting in southern China between the Burmese government's first secretary, Tin Aung Myint Oo, and Chinese vice premier, Li Keqiang.

"China and Myanmar [Burma] should make efforts together to strengthen exchanges and cooperation, as well as safeguard stability on the border areas for the sake of the fundamental interests of the two peoples," the Xinhua news agency quoted Li as saying.

Tin Aung Myint Oo reportedly replied that Burma "is willing to further deepen mutually-beneficial cooperation and stabilize border areas for the long-term ties with China".

Heavy fighting in August between Burmese government troops and an ethnic rebel army in the Kokang region of Burma's northeastern Shan state, which border's China, forced up to 37,000 people across the border into China.

The Chinese foreign ministry issued a rare admonishment to Burma on 28 August, urging it to "properly deal with its domestic issue to safeguard the regional stability in the China-Myanmar border area".

Professor Ian Holliday, an expert on China-Burma relations at the University of Hong Kong, said that the current situation on the border is a "fragile peace" and that instability continued to underlie efforts by both countries to stabilise the region.

"I think there has to be some kind of political settlement that's acceptable not only to those two powers but also to the local militias," he said.

He added however that Beijing would likely be reluctant to become party to negotiations between the Burmese government and armed ethnic groups along the border.

"I don't think China is too keen to get dragged into something like that , they don't really want to hold the ring between the ceasefire groups and the Burmese but I think that's where they might be heading," he said.

China's criticism of Burma in August signaled a rare dip in relations between the two countries. Burma relies on China for much of its economic and political support, and China has on several occasions blocked UN resolutions condemning the Burmese regime.

China is believed to be providing funding and weaponry to Burma's largest ceasefire group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the majority of whom are ethnic Chinese. Troops from the UWSA reportedly backed the Kokang group during the offensive in August.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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