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Tue, Mar 18, 1997
Sino-Burma Relations

also: Korean defector arrives in Philippines; Vietnam to press its case; Thai delegation to PRC; hot bets in Hong Kong; and more . . .

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Korea: North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop has left China and is now in the Philippines under the security and control of the South Korean government, reports Inside China. The article said Huang was whisked to Xiamen in Fujian province where he boarded a charted Air China commercial plane. He travelled with at least two other people, including a South Korean diplomat, the paper says.

The paper quotes the Xinhua news agency, the official news agency in China: "China, proceeding from safeguarding the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, according to Hwang's own will and considering the positions taken by the parties concerned, has sent Hwang out of China's territory for a third country."

Burma: the New Light of Myanmar reports that on March 4 the Vice-Chairman of Religious Bureau of the PRC, Yang Tongxiang, met with Secretary- 1 of the State Law and Order Restoration Council Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt at Dagon Yeiktha of the Ministry of Defence. The article provides little more information, and there's a photograph. But it would be reasonable to assume that the event was related to the return of the sacred Buddha Tooth Relic to the PRC the next day, March 5. The paper reports that the relic came to Burma (Myanmar) "under the programme for promoting friendly relations and cooperation between the Union of Myanmar and the People's Republic of China".

Reputed to be an actual tooth from the Buddha, the relic has made its way to Burma every year for the past four. It comes for 90 days and then departs for home in the PRC. The whole affair surrounding its stay and tour in Burma is highly ritualized and, if one were to observe it closely, builds more than goodwill between the two nations. For the whole process is designed to legitimize the ruling SLORC generals or, rather, to allow the SLORC generals to legitimize themselves in the eyes of the people, and in this sense the relic becomes more than a symbol of goodwill but an instrument of diplomacy.

As the article explains,

    "The ceremony to convey the Tooth Relic back to PRC began at Gandakuti Taik of the Tooth Relic Pagoda (Yangon) at 12.45 pm. Present on the occasion were Sayadaws led by Nayaka chok Sayadaw of the State Pariyatti Sasana Tekkatho (Yangon) and Sayadaws from PRC as well as Chairman of the Work Committee for Conveying Buddha's Tooth Relic from PRC Minister for Religious Affairs Lt-Gen Myo Nyunt, Secretary of the Work Committee Deputy Minister U Aung Khin, officials, nuns, members of the Wut Association of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and those of the Wut Association of the Defence Services General Hospital."

If we had access to back issues of the New Light of Myanmar and complete stories therein, we likely would be able to reconstruct the entire route of the relic through Burma, especially Yangon and Mandalay, and the steps taken by the ruling Generals, especially Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt, as they pay homage to it and as new pagodas are opened in their names. In the context of government, Pagoda building is an essential part to nourishing the ruling house's relationships with the faithful, and people from Burma expend large sums of money and energy in contributing to the Sangha, the Buddhist church.

Analysts have speculated for many years now that China's interests in Burma lead directly to the Indian Ocean and Andaman Sea. There the PRC has eyes on an ocean-going terminus for China's goods from Yunnan Province and on the Coco islands. It was on these islands that US intelligence satellites observed the construction of a naval station in 1992. Believed to be manned with the assistance of Chinese technicians, the facility would apparently provide China with eyes and ears in the strategic shipping lanes running through the area.

Sino-Burma relations are therefore rather complex and multi-faceted, as they should be, considering the two nations share a 2000-km long frontier. Problems along this frontier have had, for centuries, the tendency to spill over onto both sides.

The PRC's support for insurgencies along the frontier is also an important issue, as China gave much support to the Communist Party of Burma (CPB). This support, however, effectively ended with the rise of Deng Xiaoping. By 1979 the CPB was left to supply itself after decades of extensive economic, political and military aid. The hold over vast tracts of territory nominally held in its name eventually dissolved with the power of the organization, and by 1989 the CPB was no more. Suffice it to say for now that over the years insurgent groups have slowly and cautiously signed cease-fire agreements with the generals in Yangon, and a brisk trade moves across the frontier at various points. Almost everyday a delegation arrives from the PRC and Yunnan province, and Burma dispatches its own to go north to Beijing and elsewhere.

One of the latest Burmese delegations to Beijing transpired a few days ago on March 12. Mr. Si Mayi, Member of the State Council and Chairman of the National Affairs Committee, received the delegation, reports the New Light of Myanmar. Referrring to the "Burma961227" of a pagoda where the sacred relic was being kept, "Mr Simayi said that the subversive elements' detonating the shrine housing the Buddha's Tooth Relic in Yangon was aimed at breaking up Sino-Myanmar friendly relations. . . . He said they understood and accepted what Myanmar leaders undertook for that matter and noted that the destructionists' evil scheme could not mar Sino-Myanmar friendship, but made it firmer," reports the New Light of Myanmar.

Si then gave his assurances that "permission would be granted to convey the Buddha's Tooth Relic to Myanmar for public obeisance in future," reports the paper.

Vietnam: we learn more information today about the diplomatic row between Vietnam and the PRC over a Chinese drilling rig in disputed waters off Vietnam's coast. Apparently the Chinese ships have been drilling there for "some time" already, and that the area is potentially rich in gas, not petroleum as I suggested. Inside China says that Hanoi will press its claim with Beijing, as it also seeks a peaceful settlement to the issue.

Thailand: Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and military leaders from Thailand will travel to the PRC from April 1-5, reports the Bangkok Post.

"During the visit, Gen Chavalit is scheduled to meet China's Defence Minister Zhi Hao Thien and other officials and offer condolences on the death of China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. . . . They will also negotiate with the Chinese Military Commission to buy arms, including ships," the paper writes.

Hong Kong: five people have been charged in taking illegal bets at the horse races in the territory, reports Inside China. The article notes that the colony's watch-dog force against corruption, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, is investigating the matter.

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a news service focused on China, Taiwan and Hong Kong
©1997 Matthew Sinclair-Day