China’s attempts to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries, which extends to funding and arming separatist/rebel outfits in other countries, is now pushing other countries to co-operate closely especially when it comes to bilateral cooperation in the security sector- the latest example being that of India and Myanmar, which recently led to Myanmar handing over 22 North-eastern insurgents to India- 12 of them linked with groups active in Manipur and 10 associated with those in Assam.
In Myanmar, the separatist outfit- Arakan Army (AA) has intensified it’s the conflict in Rakhine- a coastal province in the country, as well as the neighbouring state of Chin. The Arakan Army has strong links with China, and amidst the ongoing Pandemic, China has tried to bolster this separatist outfit active in Burmese territory.
In the third week of February, a huge consignment of arms- 500 assault rifles, 30 Universal Machine Guns, 70000 rounds of ammunition, along with a massive stock of grenades was brought in by sea and offloaded close at the Monakhali beach, close to the coastal junction of Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi troops are said to look the other way, instead of engaging with the Arakan Army troops unlike India which co-operates in joint military strikes with Myanmar. Myanmar-Bangladesh ties are in poor shape because Dhaka is irked by the pushout of Rohingyas, whose burden has directly fallen upon Bangladesh.
What Bangladesh’s nonchalance towards the movement of arms and ammunition towards the separatist Myanmar outfit- Arakan Army does is that it allows China to use the Bangladesh route for supporting the separatist outfit in Myanmar. In fact, India and Myanmar had conducted ‘Operation Sunrise’ last year to crack down on the Arakan Army bases.
The Arakan Army (AA) shares strong links with China ever since its inception in the Kachin province in 2009. AA spokesperson, Khaine Tukkha recently stated, “China recognises us while India does not”. China is supporting the Arakan Army to safeguard its investments in Myanmar, while New Delhi cooperates with Myanmar as a true ally.
The Indian Army conducts military strikes in close collaboration with Myanmar to demolish Arakan Army bases in Southern Mizoram, while China supports Arakan Army. This is the reason why the Arakan Army has not targeted the Chinese deep seaport at Kyaukphyu, but has constantly disrupted India’s ambitious Kaladan project in Myanmar by kidnapping India’s road and bridge construction workers.
According to Northeast Now, a Bangkok-based expert in Asia’s arm trafficking, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid Chinese counter-measures, revealed that Chinese State-owned ordnance company Norinco supplies consignments to the Arakan Army using certain fronts.
He further disclosed that TCL, a Norcino front supplied the consignment to the separatist outfit, and it is still not clear whether the Arakan Army made a direct payment to TCL or if covert means were arranged by the Chinese intelligence.
Use of fronts to fund insurgent groups is a tactic that has been used to help insurgent groups in the Northeast too. In fact, in India’s Northeast and Myanmar, China has been constantly using the strategy of bolstering insurgent groups to achieve its foreign policy and specific bilateral goals.
A couple of years ago, a former Army officer and member of strategic think-tank, Centre of East and North East Regional Studies in Kolkata (CENERS-K), Lt. General J R Mukherjee, had revealed that China aids insurgents in the Northeast whenever there is a certain degree of embitterment in bilateral ties. Therefore, whenever things don’t go the way Beijing wants, Beijing tries to take New Delhi by ransom by aiding insurgent groups in the Northeast.
It is following the same tactics in Myanmar now- aiding the Arakan Army through supply of sophisticated arms and ammunition in order to safeguard its investments in Burmese territory and at the same time jeopardising that of India because the Arakan Army virtually becomes a Chinese proxy.
Myanmar and India have thus come together to co-operate closely. And this is where the strong bilateral ties in areas of military co-operation and intelligence gathering are proving to be crucial.
Both Myanmar and India have been conducting a spate of joint military strikes on both sides of the border- some of them targeted against camps of North-eastern insurgent groups based in Myanmar, and some of them targeting Arakan Army camps based in India’s Northeast, Mizoram to be precise.
It is in this context that Myanmar’s recent move to shift 22 North-eastern insurgents to India should be seen. Long story cut short- China is using the Bangladesh route to help the separatist Arakan Army in Myanmar, which has disillusioned Myanmar as regards Beijing and now Myanmar is aligning with India to tackle Chinese influence.