The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘China’ tag

Kachin Days

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Guest blogger: Raymond Pagnucco

Follow Raymond on Twitter at @RaymondPagnucco

See Raymond’s site here

New York- I’ve known Ray Pagnucco for some twenty years now. Ray is constantly on the move in Asia and Africa, often interested in uncovering the world’s lesser told e stories that strike his imagination.

The following guest post stems from Ray’s most recent trip to what is likely the world’s most perennially troubled nation-state if one goes by sheer decades of political violence (sorry clichés about Somalia since 1991 but Burma has been raging since 1948). Ray recently crossed from the western-most region of southern China’s Yunnan Province into Burma’s northern Kachin State to document the hardscrabble rebels of the Kachin Independence Army. Enjoy!

KIA soldier with Gun ( this can be used with either pic) Young Kachin Soldier posses with this rifle. This rifle is Kachin made copy of the Chinese Type 81. The Kachin make a lot of their weapons including claymore, grenades, mortar rounds and bullets. I asked one KIA official why they didn’t buy weapons from China. He replied we didn’t want to make the Burmese Military mad and we never thought we would be fighting again. So we put our resources in to building a civil society and infrastructure. ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

KIA member with rifle
Young ethnic-Kachin fighter posses with his rifle. This rifle is Kachin-made copy of the Chinese Type 81. The Kachin fashion many of their own weapons including claymore mines, grenades, mortar rounds and ammunition. I asked one KIA official why they didn’t buy weapons from China. He replied, “we didn’t want to anger Burmese forces and
we never thought we would be fighting again. So we put our resources in to building a civil society and infrastructure.” ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

It is well known to any highly organized ethnic group that the road to greater autonomy is a rough one replete with of hopes, dreams and a considerable amount of uncertainty that come with a national liberation movement. When your an ethnic group in Burma that makes up just 1.5% of the population of a country of 60 million the reality of ever being autonomous in even more challenging.

However the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and their armed wing the Kachin Independence Army ((KIA) have been pushing for greater autonomy since the the early 1960’s with only limited success. After about three decades of fighting the KIO and KIA had reached a ceasefire with the Burmese junta then known as the ominous sounding State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC)* in 1994.

*The SLORC was later renamed the State Peace and Development Council in 1997 and then officially dissolved by the infamous General Than Shwe in early 2011 when Than abdicated the junta’s rule in the transfer of power to President Thein Sein’s civilian government.

The1994  ceasefire gave the KIO and KIA a fair bit of autonomy over a large area of Kachin State and parts of Shan State along the Chinese Border. This Kachin autonomous zone allowed the KIO is able to collects taxes at border crossings with China and engages in various business deals throughout Kachin State. Most of the trade often revolved around the monetization of natural resources such as jade, timber and gold. The KIO-though no angels themselves in this prolonged conflict-also launched a ambitious opium eradication campaign within the territory under its control.

Chinese dam While the fight rages in Kachin State work continues unabated on the Chinese dam that has been a hot bed of contention between the Burmese and the Kachin people. The power generated by this dam will go straight back to China. If the Kachin want access to the power produced by the dam they will have to buy it from the Chinese. Oddly enough the Burmese Military and Civilian Government don’t seem to care that their land is being exploited by another country as long as they get paid. ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

Chinese-built dam
While the fight rages in Kachin State, work continues unabated on the Chinese hydroelectric dam that has been a hot bed of contention between the Burmese and the Kachin people. The electricity generated by this dam will return to China. If the Kachin want access to the power produced by the dam they will be required to purchase from the Chinese.  ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

However in June 2011 renewed violence broke out between the KIA and the Burmese military effectively ending the seventeen-year long ceasefire. The fighting was a result of the Burmese regime’s attempt to secure areas around lucrative energy projects in Kachin and Shan state, the majority of which are funded by the Chinese government while in an area traditionally controlled by the KIA.

For the first year and a half the KIA was able to hold its ground and tried on eleven separate occasions to end the fight and work on a new ceasefire. Then in late December 2012 the Burmese escalated the fighting using aerial attacks to push the KIA back toward to their de-facto capital of Laiza hugging the Chinese boorder.  Government troops have since stopped their larger advance but sporadic fighting continues and an estimated 100,000 Kachin civilians have since been displaced.

Young Kachin rebel A youthful KIA fighter clutches his rifle as a frame his forest portrait. ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

Young Kachin rebel
A youthful KIA fighter clutches his rifle as a frame his forest portrait. ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

For a number of years I have kept a close eye on Burma and the various ethnic conflicts that have plagued the country since it was granted independence from Britain in the wake of the the Second World War. I have travelled several times with the Karen National Liberation Army in Karen State to wittiness the war they had been waging for 63 years. This past February I felt it was time to make a trek to Laiza and see what they Kachin where going through and to understand why they were fighting following the ceasefire’s collapse.

When you get to the KIO and KIA controlled areas you will see the result of the former 17 year ceasefire. From roads to schools to sending students abroad for higher education, the Kachin upheld the rule of law and where able to transform their area into a functioning civil society that other ethnic groups like the Karen were not able to achieve after the fall of their d-facto capital of Manerplaw fell to the Burmese in early 1995. The Kachin used their natural resources to create something out of nothing and waited for many year to have a real peace deal with the Burmese military government that went beyond a ceasefire agreement that are so often broken by the Burmese military known locally as the Tatmadaw.

Logging Elephant  On my way to Laiza I happened to see an elephant use for logging on the side of the road. I was very excited to see him and it reminded me of my first trip to Afghanistan in 2003 when I saw my first camel. I suddenly realized that this elephant was more than just a beast of burden. It was a metaphor for Burma. A might beast longing to be free but having trouble with coming to terms with it’s own reality. ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

Logging Elephant
On my way to Laiza I happened to see an elephant used for logging on the side of the road.I realized that this elephant was more than just a beast of burden. It was a metaphor for Burma. A mighty beast yearning to be free but having trouble with coming to terms with it’s own reality. ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

Although Laiza is essentially a city under siege, Stalingrad it is not. Upon  arriving in Laiza, I noted that many of the businesses were shuttered.. Its is normally possible to get in and out of the city through either the official nearby Chinese border crossing that has now been closed to non-Kachin. It is also possible or to take a jeep and travel five-six hours on a bumpy mountain road (thought this alternate route is impassable during rainy season). On they way I passed open pit mines, a Chinese dam and elephants employed in logging.

The Kachin people differ from other regional ethnic groups in that they are overwhelmingly Protestant or Roman Catholic and cherish democratic societal practices. During my visit the locals appeared be in relatively good spirits, believing that one day they will be victorious even if that means they are forced to withdraw from population centers and retreat into the jungle to fight or a yet another peace deal will be brokered.

The Kachin remain united. Not only those living in Laiza but those living in other parts of Burma, China and India. It is not uncommon to meet Kachin who have come from other parts of Burma or neighboring countries to aid in the effort. This conflict has had the effect of  uniting the Kachin transnationally.

Shot of the lower receiver of the M16 A veteran of the first war between the KIA and the Burmese military proudly displays this  US Government issues M16. If you look at the lower receiver you can still see  Colt AR 15 Property of the US Govt. M16A1 stamped on the side. When i told the veteran solider I grew up near the factory, he asked me when i go home if I could stop by the factory and pick some up for his men. My heart sank after hearing this. He then went on to tell me it was the finest rifle he had ever fired and he believed that the KIA could win the war only if they had more M16s.   This weapon most likely made it’s way to Burma via arms deals between ethic armies and the Thai Military or black market arms dealers who took advantage of the weapons left behind by the US in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  Either way after 40 years the ghosts of the US presents in Southeast Asia still rome the jungles. ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

Shot of the lower receiver of the M16
A veteran of the first war between the KIA and the Burmese military proudly displays this US Government issue M16. If you look at the lower receiver you can still see Colt AR 15. M16A1 stamped on the side. 
This weapon most likely made its way to Burma via arms deals between ethnic armies and the Thai military or black market arms dealers who took advantage of the weapons left behind by the US in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Either way after 40 years the ghosts of the US military adventure in Southeast Asia still hunts the jungle to deadly effect.  ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

When and how this war will end is anyone’s guess. The Kachin and the Burmese authorities have met over a dozen times since the current bout of war and a lasting deal has yet to be reached. President Thein Sein has told the international community that he has ordered the army to stop it’s war against the KIA and KIO but this has not led to lasting change in the region.

This is a clear sign that the army is still in power in Burma and the civilian government of Thein Sein (a former junta member himself) is mostly a veneer in the brutal realities of Burma’s ethnic hinterlands.

Some say that this conflict will only end when the KIA and KIO are completely obliterated. Other say that this battle was only practice for the Tatmadaw for a larger war with the United Wa State Army and they the Kachin will get some kind of deal when fight in Wa State begins.”

TWD Editor’s Note: Despite having publicly shifted from a military junta to weak civilian rule with promises of reforms coupled with the limited return of Western corporate investment, the harsh militarism entrenched since Ne Win’s March 1962 coup d’état followed by the era of SLORC/SPDC-rule after the disastrous student-led People Power Uprising of August 8, 1988, the aggressive stance of Naypyidaw’s troops is as strongly felt as ever before in Burma’s independent-minded minority homelands as ever before. And it appears the rebels of the KIA will not be abandoning the fight any time in the near future.

Women praying at shrine  Since  fighting Between the Kachin Independence army and the Burmese Military (Tatamadaw)  escalated at the end December 2012 and beginning of January 2013, women for the Catholic church in Laiza walk the streets reciting the ava maria praying for peace in Burma. One night I decide to join them as they made their loop around the city. At the end of their loop the women end the evening back at the Church to pray one last time in front of a technicolored shrine to the Virgin Marry. In a weird way it remind me of my college dorm room minus the giant Grateful Dead Steel Your Face black light poster. After the ladies finished their prayer there was a defining silence. The women got up and walked over to me each one saying Chyeju gaba and shanking my hand. I soon realized they wanted they world to see my photos. ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

Women praying at shrine
Since fighting Between the Kachin Independence army and the Burmese military escalated at the end December 2012 and beginning of January 2013, women from the Catholic church in Laiza walk the streets reciting the ava maria praying for peace in Burma. One night I decided to join them as they made their loop around the city. At the end of their loop the women end the evening back at the Church to pray one last time in front of a technicolor shrine to the Virgin Mary. .©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

KIA soldier sleeps in trench  After a long night of guard duty a KIA solder sleeps in a trench. This picture was take at the front lines in Laiza. Three weeks earlier this was a rear position now it’s the front. I stood over this young man while he slept and tried to imagine what this young man when through in the last few weeks. ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

KIA rebel sleeps in trench
After a long night of guard duty a KIA member sleeps in a dug out dirt trench. This picture was taken at the front line at Laiza. Three weeks earlier this was a rear guard position now it’s a frontal one.  ©2013 Raymond Pagnucco

For more, see Raymond’s short film The Front Lines of Laiza over at CNN’s iReport.

Written by derekhenryflood

May 8th, 2013 at 3:14 pm

From the Highlands to the Islands-China’s Passport Roils Many of Its Neighbors

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New York- I had a piece out in Friday’s edition of Asia Times Online about the massive diplomatic row belatedly caused the Chinese government’s new biometric passport. In one fell swoop, Beijing managed to ruffle feathers from the remotest corners of the South China Sea to the Himalayas. I did my best to write a long-ish piece within reason discussing most of the disputes highlighted by the passport as well as some that either were not or have not yet been discussed in the mainstream press.

There seems to be a now ingrained conventional wisdom that the era of large scale land wars between state powers is dead and that from the 1990s onward conflicts will be either state versus non-state or sub-state groups as in Lebanon 2006 or states fighting via non-state proxies versus discredited regimes as in Syria today. But as the short but hot August 2008 Russian invasion and brief occupation of the Republic of Georgia illustrated, a conventional land war in Eurasia or a maritime one in the cases of the East and South China Seas is far from out of the question.

China and India fought a brief but symbolic land war in 1962 when the PLA invaded Arunchal Pradesh and permanently occupied Aksai Chin while acquiring the Shaksgam Valley from Pakistan the following year in a quid pro quo arrangement with the Pakistani regime at the time (the Sino-Indian War). Then China invaded Viet Nam in 1979 as retribution for Hanoi forcibly deposing the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge and subsequently occupying neighboring Cambodia the previous year (the Sino-Vietnamese War). [It should be said that both of these conflicts can be discussed in the broader context of the Sino-Soviet split]

To young post-Cold War kids, these events may as well be consigned to ancient history but they are very much alive in the minds of the military strategists and foreign policy Mandarins of the aforementioned states. A lot has changed since 1962 in that India has attempted to form a nuclear balance against China-which had the deleterious diplomatic side effect of spawning a nuclear arms race with erstwhile China ally Pakistan. Viet Nam, meanwhile, pulled out of Cambodia in 1989, lost its Soviet patron in 1991, and is in the awkward process of drawing closer to the United States-and its ASEAN ally the Philippines-partly in reaction to its varied and sundry islet disputes with China to the north (even though both Hanoi and Manila have claims on the Spratlys).

One point I want to quickly clarify is that the so-called ‘nine-dash’ line that encompasses much of the South China/West Philippine Sea predates the Maoist takeover of China in 1949-but just barely. The New York Times has alluded to this pre-Communist cartographic assertion here and here. The line was originally drawn by the Kuomintang regime in 1947 and then adopted by Mao beginning in 1953 according to a Singaporean publication, Energy and Geopolitics in the South China Sea: Implication for ASEAN and Its Dialogue PartnersSome sources say the original U-shaped line was comprised of 11 dashes and later reduced to nine.

On a much lighter, soulful note, check out this Nina Simone gem I found on Youtube:

Written by derekhenryflood

December 2nd, 2012 at 9:13 pm

TWD’s China in Africa

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New York- I have the feature piece in today’s edition of Asia Times Online about China’s most visible entry into the African sphere so far–the construction of the new African Union by Beijing–at no up front cost to the Africans. Lots of interesting machinations going on in that part of the world, the resource economy’s last unbridled frontier. Click below for more.

Written by derekhenryflood

June 8th, 2011 at 2:43 pm

How China Views ‘Revolutions’

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New York- I’m zipping through a book I borrowed from the shelves at the Jamestown Foundation by Zbigniew Brzezinski called Second Chance the other week which I’ve been reading to pass the time on various train trips. The book was written during the second term of George W. Bush and analyzes his, Clinton’s and his father George H.W.’s opportunities that they had as the only leaders of a post-Soviet unipolar world. I came across an especially interesting passage today about the aftermath of Tiananmen Square and the death of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu (who was executed with his wife Elena on Christmas Day 1989) in the Sino view of things.

On page 56 of Second Chance:

“…shortly after Ceasescu’s death, the supreme Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, asked the visiting Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, to convey a message to [George H.W.] Bush: “Do not get too excited about what happened in Eastern Europe, and do not treat China in the same manner.”

Substitute Eastern Europe in 1989-90 with the Arab convulsions today in this statement and try and extrapolate just how the Communist Party of China in Beijing views the deposement of their autocratic allies as this anecdote from well over 20 years so clearly illustrates. And the China of the present, as everyone knows is one with which the US has much less leverage than it would have in 1989 when the Tiananmen uprising and the tank man image posed the gravest threat to Communist rule there since Mao’s bloody founding of the PRC in 1949 following the resumption of the Chinese civil war after the conclusion of WWII.

All sorts of people have been wondering if the idea of democracy promotion is dead in light of how much of America’s debt, China, an authoritarian, single-party state, owns and the political and ideological ripple effects that has, along with the closer economic integration of East Asia and the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf and the Arab dictatorships of North Africa etc.

What is dead is the neoconservative idea of democracy at the point of a gun and silly nonsensical things like a “Clean Break.” But where the White House stands unsure is what to do when “moderate” allies that are grotesque police states who we outsource torture and other nasty things to collapse under their own demographic and repressive weight. While the ascendancy of China (mostly just China’s glittering skylines along its eastern seaboard) is heralded as some sort of new ‘new world order’ where democracy is no longer entirely relevant by trendy globalists, China’s rise is not yet assured as massive amounts of largely undocumented unrest carry on in the countryside.

Written by derekhenryflood

February 20th, 2011 at 6:14 pm