MORE than 20,000 people have fled ongoing violence between ethnic minorities and security officials in northern Burma (Myanmar), arriving in camps on the Chinese side of the border.
The violence is jeopardising the democratisation process initiated by the National League for Democracy (NLD).
De facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has yet to extend an olive branch to the many minority groups that form the modern nation state.
This is in part due to her inability to outmanoeuvre the military as well as seeing eye-to-eye with minorities like the Rohingya.
China is another country feeling the brunt of the exodus.
According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Thursday, “China supports Myanmar’s peace process and hopes all sides can use peaceful means to resolve their differences via dialogue and consultation”.
China is taking steps to stabilise the border region.
The Rohingya may grab the headlines, but other militia groups continue to rebel with violent means against decades-long persecution.
On Tuesday, 30 people were killed by ethnic Chinese rebels in the town of Laukkai in the Kokang region of Shan state.
The display of violence has worsened relations between Burma and China.
The Kokang region is historically close to China. The yuan is used there and locals speak a Chinese dialect.
Both governments want to end the violence as soon as possible to avoid further refugee movements.
Shuang called for both sides to “exercise restraint and immediately cease fire”, but faced with continued persecution, ethnic minorities may have little reason to give up the struggle.
Fighting spilled over the border in 2015, which rightly angered Beijing.
Despite the rhetoric, China has played only a minor role in encouraging a peaceful settlement to the ongoing conflict.
China is one of Burma’s closest allies, but fails to use its influence over the government.
Instead, China conducts extensive business in Rakhine state amid high levels of persecution against the Rohingya.
Through denouncing the recent violence, China is aiming for a secure border, rather than a secure Burma.
According to Yangon-based analyst Richard Horsey, “in the context of the peace process… [the Tuesday attack] shakes confidence not only in Kokang, but more generally… it’s a direct political challenge, as well as a security incident.”
Suu Kyi has promised national reconciliation, but many ethnic groups continue to face persecution throughout the country.
A peace deal has yet to come around, despite this being a chief goal of the new administration.
In the country’s northwest, the government faces a continued insurgency in Rakhine state.
Thousands of Rohingya continue to flee to Bangladesh.
In December 2016, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesman Pierre Peron said, “Humanitarian access to conflict areas in Kachin and Shan states is currently worse than at any point in the past few years.”
“This has seriously affected the ability of humanitarian organisations to provide life-saving aid to tens of thousands of (internally displaced) and other conflict-affected people.”
Hindered by ongoing violence on several fronts, any peace process faces some insurmountable tasks.
The last time a nationwide ceasefire was negotiated in 2011 under the military-backed government, only eight of 15 rebel groups signed. Conflict has continued ever since.