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Fighting broke out in June 2011 along the Myanmar-Chinese border. Although China officially did not take sides, large numbers of Kachin refugees and a significant portion of the defeated Kachin rebels fled to the Chinese territory for protection.

Frequent shelling and cross-border firefights followed, often with rockets exploding inside Chinese territory.

China finds itself in a tenuous position by allowing the Kachins to flee across the border. Some Chinese fear the Myanmar government might openly accuse China of harboring Kachin rebels and retaliate against China’s investment in an oil-and-gas pipeline in Myanmar.

A new Chinese-built energy pipeline is scheduled to open by the end of May, connecting the Indian Ocean to China’s energy-thirsty hinterland, via the vast Myanmar jungle.

China thus cannot afford to further antagonize the government of Myanmar President Thein Sein, who has been increasingly pro-West and pro-democratic.

The newly emerging Chinese hospitality towards the Myanmar government is a sign Beijing is adopting a more conciliatory stance to protect its vital pipeline project.

The pipeline’s Myanmar terminal will be in the western port city of Kyaukryu, along the Indian Ocean coast. It will enter China at the border town of Ruili in Yunnan Province, where the current cease-fire talks were held. The terminal will be located at the south-central city of Chongqing.

According to the official Xinhua News Agency, the Myanmar section of the pipeline has already been finished.

The section inside China is being completed in a feverish rush to meet the May deadline.

The line is a tandem oil-pipe and gas-pipe route with an annual capacity of 22 million tons of crude oil and 12 billion cubic meters of gas from the Middle East and Africa to China.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.