August 28, 2009

China Burma Border Clash

As with the border between USA and Mexico, drug wars in Burma or Myanmar are leading to violent clashes and refugees. Back in 2002 the military of Burma's ruling junta cracked down heavily on poppy growers and related drug refining in the autonomous Shan state along the border with China and Thailand. After fields and villages were destroyed the opium business moved into the Eastern Shan area.

Eastern Shan is ethnically Chinese and its most powerful resident is a man named Sai Leun aka Lin Mingxian, a former Red Guard under Mao, called by some Western Press a Chinese drug lord or "warlord." He is head of an entity called the National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS) which just celebrated a 20 year cease fire with Burma's central government. The most powerful militia group in Shan is the United Wa State Army (there is no Wa state) with perhaps as many as 20,000 soldiers. The Wa are in a standoff with the ruling junta. Interestingly, Eastern Shan has (or had?) the highest concentration of pro-junta militias. Its primary town is Mung Ton said to be a haven for drugs and prostitution frequented by Chinese tourists.

There is legitimate trade in the region. Part of Shan state is juxtaposed between China (Yunnan Province), Laos, and Thailand. Just this week a Chinese envoy from neighboring Xixuangbanna autonomous prefecture (famed for its elephants and a popular tourist park) was sent to the region to discuss the recent run up in transit fees being charged in the Shan state. There is a larger effort guided by Beijing to increase trade in the region. A possible Kunming to Chittagong railway (discussed earlier on this blog) could go through the Shan state. And a gas pipeline under development by Korean multinational Daewoo, China National Petroleum Corp., and others, may go through northern Shan state. And several dam projects along the Salween River are planned for Eastern Shan.

Yunnan Province is relying on increased energy projects, transport links, and trade through Burma for future growth with the full backing of Beijing. Instability and chaos on the border will only setback these efforts. Beijing has sent troops to the border and a "senior diplomat" to confer with the ruling junta.

Much of the information in press coverage of this crisis originates with the US Campaign for Burma and the Shan Herald News Agency ( Both are funded (in part) by Washington's National Endowment for Democracy (NED)....

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