In August 2009, violent fighting between Burma’s army and rebels from the Kokang ethnic group sent tens of thousands of Kokang villagers across the border into China. China allowed this because the Kokang are a Han-Chinese minority. Beijing heavily condemned Burma for the attacks on the Kokang.
Burma PM Thein Sein and China President Wen Jiaboa in Beijing
It’s different this past week, now that the Burmese army is fighting Kachin rebels in Kachin province of northeast Burma (Myanmar), and the fighting is threatening to spill into the Shan ethnic group to the south, according to VOA. This time, China has closed the border, and is demanding that the Burmese take all necessary steps to quell the violence.
The Kachin and Shan are indigenous ethnic groups, but the greater problem is that the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), a separatist organization, is in control of townships near two Chinese-built hydroelectric dams, according to the Telegraph. The KIO has set up refugee camps for thousands of Kachins fleeing the fighting. China has The Chinese evacuated hundreds of Chinese workers back to China, according to AFP.
Burma has had several ethnic rebellions in the last 50 years, and they’ve all ended quickly. From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, the new fighting is expected to end quickly as well, but Burmese officials have been following their usual policy of maximum brutality and bloodshed.
Burma’s last two crisis wars (1886-91 and 1948-58) were extremely bloody and violent civil wars between ethnic groups. (See “Burma: Growing demonstrations by the ’88 Generation’ raise fears of new slaughter”)
What always happens after any such war is that the survivors vow that they’ll do everything possible to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. However, the people who grow up after the war have no such horrible memories, and they begin to protest and demonstrate.
In the case of Burma, the survivors formed a military junta that still rules today, even though the members are aging. Their way of making sure that no similar civil war ever occurs again is to brutally crush every rebellion as quickly as it starts.
On 8/8/88 (August 8, 1988), hundreds of thousands of students, in what is now called the “88 generation,” joined by monks and civilians, marched against the military government. Soldiers opened fire on demonstrators with machine guns, resulting in thousands of casualties.
In 2008, as the 20th anniversary of the 1988 massacre approached, there were massive new demonstrations in Rangoon (Yangon), led by monks and nuns, as well as many ordinary citizens. Thousands of troops poured into the streets of Rangoon. Hundreds of activists and citizens were shot dead or burned alive in government crematoriums. Thousands of Buddhist monks, who led the protests to begin with, have been rounded up and detained. Some were found floating face down in rivers.
Now new protests are appearing, this time in the northern provinces of Kachin and Shan. These protests cannot lead to a new civil war, because Burma is in a generational Unraveling era, and there are too many survivors of the last crisis civil war still around. In 5 or 10 years, a new crisis civil war WILL be possible, and no amount of government brutality will stop it — in fact, government brutality at that time will feed it. But today’s protests will fizzle no matter what the government does, and so the brutality is unnecessary.
Probably the greatest significance of the fighting at this time is the effect that it will have on the hydropower dams that the Chinese are constructing. These projects have displaced hundreds of thousands of Kachins from their homes, but the electricity being generated is being sent to China, and the payments are being to Burma’s ruling élite in Naypyidaw, according to Asia Sentinel.
There have already been a number of bombings at the dam sites, and as resentment builds, we can expect to see more acts of terrorism, and more xenophobia directed at the million of Chinese living in the region. If China’s interests begin to be seriously threatened, then it may feel compelled to intervene.