On January 17th Chinese officials confirmed that, during hostilities between Myanmar’s military and rebels from that country’s ethnic-Kachin minority, a bomb had landed in Chinese territory.
China borders Myanmar, and since fighting between the Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army flared up again in 2011 events have frequently threatened to draw it further into the conflict. In 2012 around 10,000 people fleeing the violence crossed the border into the Chinese province of Yunnan. The Chinese government does not officially recognise the refugee problem, and has forced some migrants back into Myanmar. However, its attempts to downplay the scale of the security crisis have been tested as the fighting has extended across the porous border.
Chinese foreign ministry officials swiftly expressed strong concern and dissatisfaction to the Burmese government over the bomb that landed some 500 metres into Chinese territory. It was not clarified who fired it, but it followed three “bombs” (most likely artillery shells) that landed in China from Myanmar at the end of December. The ministry asked for measures to be taken so that such events could be prevented in future. China meanwhile called on both sides in the violence to implement a ceasefire immediately.
The incident poses a quandary for the Chinese government. The Burmese administration, led by the president, Thein Sein, has drawn closer to Western countries such as the US as a result of the country’s recent political liberalisation. This has undermined Chinese influence and raised concerns about the status of China’s investments in the country. Chinese ties with Myanmar and its military remain strong, but China’s authorities do not wish to drive their neighbours any further into the arms of the West. This limits their ability to respond effectively to incursions such as the bomb that landed in their territory.
For its part, Myanmar’s government can do little to halt the fighting: the Burmese military has already ignored an earlier government call to halt offensives against ethnic rebels. Challenging the military on ethnic issues is dangerous for the government, given that if powerful figures in the military came to view Thein Sein’s administration as a threat to national unity, they could take action that would severely set back the country’s ongoing political and economic liberalisation.
Click here to subscribe to The Economist
NOW WATCH: Money & Markets videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.