Monday, December 10, 2001
Jiang visits Myanmar as India, Japan vie for influence


Updated at 6.25pm:
For the past decade, Myanmar has had no better friend than China.

The close ties will be re-affirmed this week when Jiang Zemin, the first Chinese president to visit Myanmar, arrives in Yangon on Wednesday, aware that rival India and economic powerhouse Japan are also vying for influence in the isolated military state.

Previously, only Chinese prime ministers have visited Myanmar, the last being Li Peng in 1994. Myanmar military chief General Than Shwe visited Beijing in 1996.

Myanmar has relied heavily on China to support its feeble economy and for weapons to expand its bloated military. Analysts say Mr Jiang's four-day visit signals China's intent to reassert its economic and strategic interests in Myanmar, which links Southeast and South Asia overland. It also offers a potential path to the Indian Ocean for China

China stuck by Myanmar when it faced international isolation after crushing a democracy uprising in 1988 - often compared to Beijing's Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Yangon also ignored the general election victory of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 1990.

''China has been Burma's key backer since late l988 and took a gamble that its large sale of weapons would not only be paid for but would tie Burma more closely to itself,'' said Josef Silverstein, an American political scientist who has studied Myanmar for a half century.

''The gamble seems to be paying off.''

During the 1990s, China provided credit and sold Myanmar hardware including tanks, patrol boats and fighter jets, reportedly worth nearly US$2 billion. In that time, the Myanmar army more than doubled its troop strength to cement its domination over home-grown ethnic insurgencies.

Myanmar's big compromise has been to turn a blind eye to the widespread illegal settlement of ethnic Chinese in northern Myanmar, where the economy is now strongly tied to southern China.

The main northern city of Mandalay - the former royal capital of Myanmar and once a well of a rich Burmese culture - is dominated by Chinese business and construction, which is resented by the ethnic Burman majority, according to recent visitors.

A Yangon-based diplomat said that in a sign of the xenophobic regime's concern over dependence on China, it is seeking new sources of weaponry. Earlier this year, it ordered 10 MiG jet fighters from Russia, the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Most notably, Myanmar is now cultivating relations with the South Asian superpower to its west, India, which is cautious of expansion by China - suspected of helping Myanmar set up military listening posts aimed at India in the Indian Ocean in the 1990s.

In recent years, India has shifted its policy from criticising the military regime for its suppression of democracy, to co-operating with it, analysts said.

In February, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh became the first Indian minister to visit Myanmar since 1988, attending the opening of a 160-kilometre road at the northwestern Myanmar-India border.

India has sought Myanmar's help to dislodge ethnic Naga rebels at their common frontier. Last week, India's director of armed forces training visited to identify areas of assistance for Myanmar's military.

Meanwhile, Japan has been providing aid to Myanmar as an investment for the future in case its impoverished economy takes off if the military eventually cedes power. Before 1988, Japan gave 60 per cent of Myanmar's foreign aid.

Earlier this year, Japan broke the Western-led embargo on foreign aid to Myanmar, by offering US$28 million to repair a key hydro-power dam in northeastern Myanmar. Last month it offered Myanmar US$14.8 million in debt relief.

Myanmar needs outside help. Despite vast natural resources, it is one of Asia's poorest countries. It reported double digit growth in the past two years, but economy is fragile and draws minimal foreign investment.

Trade with China totals US$600 million annually, making it is Myanmar's third largest trading partner after Singapore and Thailand.

But analysts say that the official figure probably underestimates trade that goes unreported along the 2,000 kilometre China-Myanmar border.

The downside for China is the smuggling of heroin from Myanmar, the world's biggest producer, causing high addiction rates and proliferation of AIDS in southern China.


Monday, December 10, 2001

Taiwan holds ceremony for remains of spy plane pilots


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Updated at 3.03pm:
A ceremony11 was held on Monday for the recently returned remains of 14 Taiwanese airmen whose spy plane was shot down in 1963 over southeastern China duing a joint US-Taiwan mission.

The men were part of the ''Black Bat Squadron,'' a top secret operation that involved Taiwanese pilots who flew P-2V surveillance planes supplied by America after the Korean War.

Taiwanese pilots were used because it was feared that the involvement of US airmen could start a conflict during the tense time.

A Chinese MiG jet shot down the spy plane carrying the 14 Taiwanese in a mountainous region of Jiangxi Province. Because the mission was classified, the military did not provide the details of the deaths to the crew's families.

Political tensions between Taiwan and the mainland - which split amid civil war in 1949 - had blocked earlier efforts to reclaim the crew's remains. But relatives were recently allowed to bring back the bodies.

Monday, December 10, 2001

Jiang urges armed forces to focus on military studies


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President Jiang Zemin has told the armed forces that intensified study of military sciences will help win future battles.

Mr Jiang told the Military Academy of Sciences on Saturday that the top brass must assign more personnel to cutting-edge military research. "Advanced military theories are important conditions for guiding a healthy development in the construction of the army and for winning victories in military strikes," he said.

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