A swift but steady Chinese military buildup is taking place along the China-Myanmar border after three Myanmarese air force bombings killed at least four and wounded eight at a Chinese village in one week.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has commandeered a high school soccer field in the Chinese Nansan district in the southwestern province of Yunnan for use as a helicopter landing field. For several days, all civil and commercial flights from nearby airports were canceled so the airports could be used to land Chinese fighter jets.
Chinese Internet users have posted photos of what appear to be several PLA Air Force J-7 supersonic fighter jets at the airports.
Airport officials said Monday that some commercial flights were resumed while the PLA still occupied most parts of the airports.
China’s largest Internet portal, Sina.com, has reported that, in addition to the PLA air force’s J-7 fighter jets, the quickly deployed weapons include the PLA’s Red Flag 12 (HQ-12) air defense missiles and 35 mm anti-aircraft artillery batteries.
On March 8, a Myanmarese air force MiG-29 strayed into China and flew over a village. The aircraft dropped a bomb, destroying a house but causing no casualties.
Four days later, another Myanmarese jet entered Chinese airspace but crashed into a hill inside China after dropping two bombs. No details were available about whether Chinese villagers were killed or wounded, or how the aircraft went down. Speculation is the jet was shot down by a Chinese air defense missile.
The next day, Myanmarese MiG-29s and attack helicopters returned to the same Chinese area twice. At least three bombs were dropped, killing four and wounding eight Chinese nationals, most of them sugar cane farmers.
On the evening of March 13, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Li Zhenmin urgently summoned Myanmar’s top diplomatic envoy to Beijing for a “resolute presentation” and protest, demanding a complete investigation of the incidents. He demanded that Myanmar promptly report back to the Chinese government the results of the investigation.
The next day, PLA Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission in Beijing, placed an urgent call to the commander in chief of the Myanmar armed forces, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, and made an ultimatum-type statement that the PLA would intervene immediately if such incidents happened again.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, vehemently denied Monday that its air force had participated in aerial attacks on the Chinese village, suggesting that Kokang rebels were responsible for the incidents in an effort to play the Chinese against the Myanmarese central government. The rebels, who have been fighting government troops for the past month and a half, called the government’s charge groundless.
China’s official media, however, placed blame squarely on Myanmar’s government, as do most Chinese who are influenced by the official media.
The Beijing-based official newspaper the Global Times conducted an online poll in which readers were asked: “Both Burmese government and the Kokang rebels have denied responsibility for bombing our people in the border region, which side would you blame as the culprit?” A whopping 88 percent said the Burmese government was responsible for the action; 12 percent said the Kokang rebels were responsible.
As more Chinese troops are deployed to the border area, Myanmar’s government has begun to soften its denial. It issued a statement Tuesday admitting the harm done to China without completely accepting culpability. The statement said “the war has caused the deaths and injury to some Chinese citizens in the border area, for which we express our deep sadness.”
Since the outbreak of the latest firefight more than a month ago, the Myanmarese government has accused Chinese authorities in the border region of aiding and abetting the Kokang rebels. In the Chinese Internet, growing anti-Myanmar sentiment has become more vociferous and nationalistic, with many calling the Kokang region “China’s Crimea,” a not-so-subtle cry for China to annex the Myanmarese territory.
• Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @Yu_miles.