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C3S Overview: Factoring Brotherhood Alliance in the Destabilization at the China-Myanmar Border

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

By Sruthi Sadhasivam

Image Courtesy: The Irrawady


Article 39/2023


China has been calling for the end of conflict in Northern Myanmar in the wake of Myanmar Junta’s loss of control over the region in the face of armed ethnic group’s destabilizing acts at the China-Myanmar border.


China perceives instability at its border with Myanmar as a major security threat as the country has invested in various infrastructural projects in Myanmar under the banner of China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). Moreover, border towns are major transit points for trade between China and Myanmar. Therefore, China’s fears lie in the destabilizing activities undertaken by the brotherhood alliance, a tripartite alliance of 3 insurgent groups whose activities threaten to disrupt trade and other engagements between China and Myanmar.



Further, the tripartite group’s endeavours seem to affect India’s national security as well. Recently, Chin National Front (CNF) Vice Chairman, Sui Khar claimed that the rebel groups were attacking Myanmar military to spread over two camps bordering India's Mizoram state (Kapoor & Ghoshal, 2023).


Given the transnational security dimension of the matter, it becomes pertinent to examine the armed groups’ activities. Bearing this in mind, the author seeks to fathom the activities of the Brotherhood alliance and track their moves so as to provide a basic overview of the issue.


Rationale Behind Brotherhood Alliance’s Attack at the Border


The Brotherhood Alliance comprises the Arakan Army (AA), Ta’ang National Liberation Amy (TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). In the present conflict, the group’s allies include the Bama Peoples Liberation Army (BPLA), the reformed Communist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Mandalay People’s Defense Force (MNDF) (Mathieson, 2023).


The group has claimed to have launched an offensive at the border to defend the rights and property of civilians; to protect its members’ armies and to exert a more pronounced control over the self-administered regions within their territories (Lipes & Foster, 2023).


Other reasons cited by the group to launch an offensive are to reduce the Myanmar Junta’s air and artillery strike capabilities, to dislodge the junta from power and to combat criminal activities such as online scam occurrences at the border with China (Lipes & Foster, 2023).



(Fig 1.1)


Brotherhood Alliance’s Spoils at the China-Myanmar Border


The Brotherhood alliance had launched an offensive on October 27, 2023 at the China-Myanmar border. The offensive is popularly referred to as the “Operation 1027” (Lipes & Foster, 2023). The tripartite group simultaneously attacked 7 border towns of Myanmar (Kunlong, Theinni, Chin Shwe Haw, Laukkaing, Namhkan, Kutkai, and Lashio) in Shan state and Myanmar’s northeast command headquarters. Fighting has been reported in other Shan state towns such Muse and Kyaukme (The Post, 2023).

(Fig 1.2)


Brotherhood Alliance forces control some part of Highways 3 and 34 located in proximity to the Myanmar border towns of Muse and Chinshwehaw (Abuza, 2023).


With the operation 1027, the group has taken control over 126 forward operating bases of Myanmar’s military. The group has claimed to “control or partially control 13 towns.” Myanmar Junta has lost some six tanks and armoured vehicles to the armed groups (Chan, 2023).


Lashio-Muse and Lashio-Chin Shwe Haw trade routes, two of the most important routes between Myanmar and China meet at Hsenwi. However, the strategic town at present is under the control of the brotherhood alliance (The Irrawaddy, 2023).




China’s Response to the Instability at the China-Myanmar Border


Xi Jinping had hailed the Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone, the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone and the New Yangon City as the three pillars of the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) (Chanda, 2021). From observing the attacks by the Brotherhood Alliance, it can be deciphered that the group has been targeting various sources of trade between China and Myanmar.


China’s chief response to the ongoing fighting at the China-Myanmar border is to release statements calling for a ceasefire and peaceful resolution of the conflict. China has been urging Myanmar Junta to crack down on criminal scam operations at the border. In the wake of the fighting at the border, China has called upon Myanmar to “ensure the safety of the lives and property of Chinese border area residents” (Ratcliffe, 2023).




Some Trends: Brotherhood Alliance Offensive


In recent days, fighting has erupted in the western states of Rakhine and Chin (Kapoor & Ghoshal, 2023). For instance, the Junta has lost control of Kawling and Kamphat areas from Sagaing Region and Rih Kaw Dar area from Chin State. This shows that the conflict is spreading from Northern Shan state to other states gradually and escalating at a new scale.



(Sruthi Sadhasivam is a Research Officer, Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S). The views expressed does not reflect the views of C3S)


References

Abuza, Z. (2023, November 10). Operation 1027 poses rare challenge to Myanmar junta — Radio Free Asia. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved November 11, 2023, from https://www.rfa.org/english/commentaries/myanmar-operation-1027-11102023122533.html

Chan, M. S. N. (2023, November 14). Two Weeks After Myanmar Rebels' Offensive, Junta Struggles to Mount Counterattack. The Wire. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from https://thewire.in/world/myanmar-military-unable-to-counter-resistance-offensive

Chanda, J. (2021). The China Myanmar Economic Corridor: A Reality Check. Vivekananda International Foundation. Retrieved November 14, 2023, from https://www.vifindia.org/sites/default/files/national-security-vol-4-issue-3-article-JChanda.pdf

Clapp, P. A., & Tower, J. (2023, November 8). Myanmar's Junta Is Losing Control of Its Border with China. United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved November 11, 2023, from https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/11/myanmars-junta-losing-control-its-border-china

The Irrawaddy. (2023, November 15). Nine Towns Occupied by Myanmar Military for Decades Lost to Resistance in Days. The Irrawaddy. Retrieved November 16, 2023, from https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/war-against-the-junta/nine-towns-occupied-by-myanmar-military-for-decades-lost-to-resistance-in-days.html

Kapoor, K., & Ghoshal, D. (2023, November 14). Myanmar rebels aim to control India border after early victories. The NRI Nation. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from https://www.mynrination.com/myanmar/2023/11/14/myanmar-rebels-aim-to-control-india-border-after-early-victories

Lipes, J., & Foster, M. (2023, October 27). Ethnic alliance launches offensive on junta in eastern Myanmar. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved November 11, 2023, from https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/offensive-10272023164744.html

Mathieson, S. (2023, November 10). Brotherhood Alliance rewriting Myanmar's war narrative. Asia Times. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from https://asiatimes.com/2023/11/brotherhood-alliance-rewriting-myanmars-war-narrative/

The Post. (2023, October 28). Ethnic rebel groups carry out co-ordinated attacks in Myanmar. The Post. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from https://www.thepost.co.nz/world-news/350099973/alliance-rebel-groups-carries-out-co-ordinated-attacks

Ratcliffe, R. (2023, November 7). Myanmar junta facing biggest challenge yet after new offensive by armed groups, analysts say. The Guardian. Retrieved November 16, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/07/myanmar-junta-facing-biggest-challenge-yet-after-new-offensive-by-armed-groups-analysts-say

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