Myanmese refugees flood across border
Beijing has landed in a delicate diplomatic dilemma after tens of thousands of Myanmese refugees flocked across the Chinese border to seek shelter from escalating clashes between Myanmar's military and the Kachin Independence Army.
Mi Bingxing, a pastor in Yingjiang county, Yunnan, on the Myanmese border, told the South China Morning Post that around 10,000 refugees had flowed into area villages to escape the turmoil back home and that more than 40,000 were gathered on the other side, ready to cross.
'Most of them staying in Yingjiang are staying with their relatives in the dozens of villages along the border, or doing odd jobs,' Mi said. 'The elderly, women and children are staying at shelters along the border.'
Mi said refugees first flocked to the border in June after the Myanmese military and Kachin fighters resumed their conflict after a 17 year ceasefire and have since frequently crossed back and forth.
For now, Beijing appears to be turning a blind eye to the refugee situation, with no official media reporting on it. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said recently that he had not heard about widely circulated stories and photos reportedly showing a villager being killed by the Myanmar military in Yunnan.
Mi said he was not aware of any attempt by Beijing to seal off the border or force the refugees to return.
Both the Yunnan and Yingjiang government spokespersons were not available for comment. Giuseppe de Vincentis, the representative for UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Beijing, said the commission could not confirm nor deny the refugees' presence because it does not have a presence in the area.
The European Union and the United States have made peace deals with ethnic militias, such as the Kachin fighters, a prerequisite for lifting sanctions against Myanmar.
Xinhua reported the Myanmar government on Tuesday signed an initial peace agreement with an armed anti-government ethnic group, the Kayin National Liberation Army, following similar ceasefire deals with the Shan, Chin and other ethnic rebel groups.
China's Foreign Ministry last summer urged restraint from all parties in the conflicts.
Professor Zhao Gancheng of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said Beijing still hopes to use diplomatic channels to deal with the refugee problem and help Yangon avoid embarrassment.
'The conflict has had a great affect on the Chinese side of the border and has posed a diplomatic challenge to Beijing,' Zhao said. 'Yet Beijing can't take a bold measure to put the issue on the table because the situation is very delicate now.'
Zhao said China could not openly accept the Kachin refugees, as it would upset the Myanmar government, nor force the flooding refugees back home, because it would then come under pressure for causing a humanitarian crisis.