Rising conflict in Rakhine reflects waning Chinese influence

The escalating conflict in Myanmar's Rakhine state marks a diminishing influence of China over regional rebel groups historically supported for strategic and economic interests.

-Six junta camps in Maungdaw taken by over AA-

The escalating conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine state signals a decline in China’s influence over the region’s rebel forces. Historically, Beijing held considerable sway over both the military junta and rebel groups, including the Wa Army, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Kokang forces, and the Arakan Army (AA). These groups relied on China for arms and financial support, in exchange for access to valuable resources spanning from Kachin to northern Shan, down to the Sittwe and Kyaukphyu regions.

China has also shown interest in western Myanmar, particularly the Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships near the border with Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts. Some strategic experts believe that the crackdown on the Rohingyas by the military junta since 2017 was part of a plan to help China establish an economic hub, facilitating access to Bangladesh and the Chittagong port. “The Rohingya conflict is not just about religion and ethnicity but also economics,” said a former Burmese government official on condition of anonymity.

As fighting between the AA and the military junta intensifies, with the AA making significant gains in western Rakhine, Beijing has been urgently seeking a ceasefire. Reports suggest that senior Chinese officials have reached out to AA Commander-in-Chief Tun Myat Naing, based in Laiza near the China-Myanmar border in Kachin. However, the AA leader has reportedly refused to entertain any ceasefire requests from the Burmese military junta.

In his speech on the AA’s Armed Forces Day on April 10, Tun Myat Naing alluded to “some neighboring countries” supporting the junta, providing advantages in weaponry and naval and air forces. Without naming these countries, he implied that their support enables the junta to continue its terror campaign against civilians and maintain power. Sources believe China is among these countries.

The AA, now controlling over 70 percent of the territory and important junta positions since November 2023, appears determined to sustain its momentum. “The AA senses it is close to achieving its goal of driving out the Burmese military from Rakhine and implementing its ‘Rakhita way’ principle,” said a source close to the group.

The AA has strategically taken over key positions along the Bangladesh border and in the Paletwa township in southern Chin State, near the Indian border with Mizoram. They have reportedly seized over 172 junta bases. On June 12, the AA captured a junta base in Maungdaw Township after a three-day assault, taking nearly 400 junta border police troops and their dependents prisoner.

Khit Thit Media reported that defeated junta border guards and their families fled their camps in Maungdaw Township on June 7, boarding two amphibious landing crafts in heavy surf. One craft overturned, causing four family members to drown, and the rest returned to shore where they were captured by the AA. The AA captured six junta camps in Maungdaw Township during the first week of June, taking 290 junta troops prisoner.

Media reports also indicate that junta troops have ordered residents to evacuate 12 villages in the junta-held enclave of Sittwe Township and are demolishing the villages. No reason was given, but the AA has encircled the state capital, and a final assault is anticipated. The residents are being taken to Sittwe as hostages.

Local reports suggest that junta troops have been ordered to defend the Ngapali Beach resort area in Thandwe Township at all costs. The area contains several luxury hotels built and owned by junta members and their associates on land seized from local people without compensation. Some hotels were constructed in anticipation of an influx of Russian tourists. Airstrikes have already damaged some of these hotels.

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