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In Myanmar, China-backed United Wa State Army funnels Chinese weapons to rebel groups: Southeast Asia expert Bertil Lintner

United Wa State Army

China wants instability in Myanmar, and wishes to remain a major controlling player in the politics of the Southeast Asian country, said veteran journalist and regional expert Bertil Lintner on Monday. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in Myanmar on Saturday to attend a regional conference that the opposition views as a violation of peace efforts.

For his first visit since the military seized power, Wang Yi will look to secure Beijing's long-term interests. Rights groups say that the overall human rights situation in Myanmar deteriorated after the Myanmar military staged a coup on February 1, 2021. Since the military's takeover, a nationwide crackdown on millions of people protesting its rule has invited rebuke from several UN agencies, which say military operations in the country resulted in numerous war crimes.

Answering a question about what role China will be looking to play amid the ongoing unrest in the country, Lintner told ANI that China is certainly playing a role in Myanmar, but he wouldn't call it 'constructive'. He argues that the Chinese feel comfortable with having the military in power, but they are also playing games at different levels.

"China is certainly playing a role in Myanmar, but I wouldn't call it constructive….the Chinese feel comfortable with having the military in power, but they are also playing games on different levels, for instance by supporting the United Wa State Army which, in turn, sends Chinese-made weapons to Kokang, Shan and Palaung rebel armies," he said.

"It's often argued that the Chinese are interested in stability and abhor chaos. It may be true that they don't want chaos, but a certain degree of instability, and then instability which they control, serves their long-term interests: to be a major, controlling player in Myanmar politics," he added.

In post-coup Myanmar, southeast experts believe that China's main interest in Myanmar is geostrategic. "As I have stated above, it is not in India's interest to see the emergence of a Chinese client state on its eastern border (it's enough with Pakistan in the west)," Lintner said.

India, which shares an approximately 1,700-kilometre-long border with the country, in the past, emphasized the need for Myanmar's return to democracy at the earliest.

During his visit in December last year, then-Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla stressed the need to put an end to any violence and maintain peace and stability in the border areas.

"Any developments in that country have a direct impact on India's bordering regions. Peace and stability in Myanmar remain of utmost importance to India, specifically to its North Eastern Region," he had said.

Lintner stressed that India should play a more proactive role in Myanmar because it's in New Delhi's interest to do so.

Underlining that Myanmar is India's gateway to Southeast Asian markets, he said rebel groups conduct cross-border insurgencies have sanctuaries on the Myanmar side of the border from where they, occasionally, launch raids into India.

"It is not in India's interest to have a Chinese client state on its eastern border, and India needs energy, and a free and stable Myanmar could provide India with hydroelectric power and gas," he said.

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