Chinese armed forces are on high alert in the Sino-Burmese border region as clashes between Burmese soldiers and rebels continue in Kokang. Security has been tightened after damage from the violence spread over into Chinese territory on Sunday, in a sign that authorities are taking more proactive measures to cool tensions the area.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) infantry and air force increased their presence and upped their patrols along the border as of Monday, after four errant bombs, dropped by Burmese planes, exploded in Chinese villages in Yunnan Province.
“On March 8, stray bombs hit the Chinese side and damaged a civilian residence,” said China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei, in a regular press conference on Monday. No one was injured or killed, he said.
“The Chinese side has expressed grave concerns to Myanmar, asking them to get to the bottom of this incident as soon as possible and take effective measures to ensure that such incidents never happen again,” said the spokesman.
Addressing the conflict in the Kokang Special Region, which has been raging for more than a month between the Burmese army and ethnic militias, led by the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Hong urged both sides “to exercise restraint, calm things down on the ground at an early date, and restore peace and stability in northern Myanmar [Burma].”
The MNDAA says the stray shells were released by the Burmese air force during a series of air strikes against the rebel group near the Chinese border. “On 7 March, Burmese fighters took off from Bhamo, turned away from Chinese airspace and attacked the MNDAA,” a statement from the group said on Tuesday. “On 8 March, the Burmese air force launched an air strike, and four bombs fell into Chinese territory.”
A video uploaded to the internet purports to show two military aircraft flying across the Chinese border. DVB cannot confirm the authenticity of the footage.
A villager from Mengding Township in Lincang told the Chinese Global Times: “We know that the Burmese air force is going after the Kokang rebels, so [when we saw the planes] everyone in the village ran outside to see what was going on. But I did not expect to see the airplanes flying closer and closer. Suddenly I saw something fall from above, and then with a ‘bang’ there was smoke and dust everywhere.”
A newly built house was apparently damaged in the incident. “Although no family members were injured, they have suffered a lot of psychological damage. They don’t know who to ask for a compensation for the loss of their new house.”
Yebo Htet, a long-time observer of the Sino-Burmese border, told DVB that on Tuesday, the PLA “finally made the move and deployed troops along the affected border areas,” with local forces having visited Lincang on Monday to verify the location of the bombing.
“The Chinese military is now appearing in public, which is a sign that the central government is adopting a serious attitude to dealing with this,” he said. “The air force has also been in the area since 2 March.”
“The movements of the PLA show that China has a stronger determination to maintain the stability of the border area. China wants a ceasefire,” he added.
In a press conference on Sunday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasised Burma’s national sovereignty, saying: “China’s position is very clear. What happens there is Myanmar’s internal affair, and we hope it can be resolved peacefully.”
“At the same time, stability must be maintained at the China-Myanmar border region as well as in northern Myanmar, because this serves the common interests of our two countries, and our two peoples,” said Wang.