Myanmar's changing ties with China

China turns blind eye to mainland supporters of ethnic Chinese rebels fighting in Myanmar

Backers of insurgents raise cash for the group online and collect supplies in China, some of which go to fighters

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 November, 2016, 5:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 November, 2016, 5:32pm

An ethnic-Chinese rebel group that is fighting Myanmar’s armed forces is raising cash on the internet and collecting supplies in China unimpeded by the nation’s censors or authorities.

Posts backing the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army’s call for autonomy plus violent pictures of the fighting on the border are also allowed to circulate freely on social media platforms on the mainland.

The armed group, also known as the Kokang army, is one of the armed rebel organisations involved in the latest outbreak of fighting with government forces in northern Myanmar.

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The clashes have led some residents to flee over the border into China.

The Democratic Alliance Army claims to be fighting for the welfare of the ethnic-Chinese minority in Myanmar, with an estimated population of 150,000 in the Kokang region.

Beijing has denied any role in the neighbouring state’s escalating ethnic conflicts, but the armed group’s high-profile activities online appears to reflect a tolerant attitude from Beijing towards the rebels, who share cultural, historical and linguistic roots with China.

The Righteous Kokang Official Blog, the group’s official social media channel, has been verified as a “government” account on the mainland.

On its Weibo page, the group regularly issues frontline reports, thanks donors and calls on members to carry on with the fighting.

“It is a just war for equal rights and a high degree of ethnic autonomy,” one post addressed to Kokang residents said in July.

The group has posted the number of its account at a branch of the Agricultural Bank of China in the border town of Nansan, Yunnan province, to receive donations.

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Yang Zhenkun, 32, a member of the group living in Nansan responsible for collecting supplies, said most donations were used for refugees in Yunnan. Others, such as helmets and telescopes, were passed to soldiers “in the mountains”.

Chinese officials had never questioned the group’s members about collecting supplies and fundraising activities on the mainland, Yang told the South China Morning Post.

The group has received more than 125,000 yuan (HK$140,000) in donations as well as clothes, biscuits and raincoats since June, it said on social media. Most came from anonymous internet users in China.

The group received 100,000 yuan from one person in Maoming, Guangdong province, in June, according to an official release.

Beijing has denied it is associated with the ethnic-Chinese rebels in Myanmar.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in February last year that the government would not allow any organisation or individual to harm Sino-Myanmese relations or undermine the stability of the two countries’ border area.

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As well as the official Democratic Alliance Army social media account, dozens of unverified Weibo users are covering the fighting and voicing support for the rebels.

Some accounts seem to be run by members of the armed group.

A person whose username is Northern Myanmar Military Academy posted photographs of himself wearing the armed group’s uniform, with his pregnant wife holding his hand.

On Monday morning, he posted images of a dead body covered in blood, which he claimed was a member of Myanmar’s military.

“The Myanmar dogs deserve to die,” one person commented under the photographs.

Another person wrote under reports on Sunday about fierce fighting: “Liberate northern Myanmar and include it in great China.”