The Burmese junta is busy making diplomatic approaches to neighboring countries after the crisis in international relations over the charges against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Burmese military junta’s third highest ranking general, Thura Shwe Mann, the joint chief of staff, is reportedly visiting China, while Singaporean former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong is in Burma for an official visit.
According to intelligence sources, Shwe Mann visited neighboring China accompanied by Lt-Gen Tin Aye, who is chief of ordnance production.
Neither Beijing and Naypyidaw have made an official announcement about Shwe Mann’s trip to China. Shwe Mann, however, has made three unannounced visits to China, the junta’s closest ally, in the last two years. His last visit was in April 2009.
“He [Shwe Mann] can make unannounced trips to China anytime, as he has done in the past,” said Win Min, a Burmese researcher in civil-military relations, who is based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. “According to Burmese military sources, he reportedly went to China for more than 10 days in April. Then he flew to North Korea.”
Burma observers say that there could be three reasons behind of Shwe Mann’s trip to China. These concern ongoing political conditions in Burma, in particular Suu Kyi’s trial.
“The Burmese junta has to brief its ally China on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst who lives on the Sino-Burmese border. “Gen Shwe Mann also went to Beijing following mass demonstrations in September 2007.”
After the September mass protest in 2007, the junta sent Foreign Minister Nyan Win to brief Beijing about the situation. Nyan Win went there as the special envoy of the junta head, Snr-Gen Than Shwe.
The second reason for Shwe Mann’s trip could be to discuss the situation on the Sino-Burmese border. Since late 2008, tension between the junta and ethnic groups has been rising as the generals push to disarm ethnic groups ahead of the 2010 elections.
In April, the junta outlined its plan to disarm ethnic groups by transforming them into “border guard forces.” Under the outline, the Burmese military will also manage the day-to-day work of the armed ethnic groups. The deadline for the ethnic groups to respond is at the end of June.
Although some armed ethnic groups agreed to follow the junta’s outline, many groups including the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the biggest non-state armed group in Burma, disagreed with the disarmament plan.
This week, Lt-Gen Ye Myint, chief of the Military Affairs Security of the Burmese armed forces and secretary of the transformation committee for ceasefire armed groups, is now in northern Shan State.
In the previous few days, he visited the headquarters of the UWSA and the Kokang armed group called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), but he failed to convince Wa and Kokang leaders to accept the junta’s disarmament plans.
Today, Ye Myint is reportedly in Mongla, Shan State, to talk with another ceasefire group, the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA).
Aung Kyaw Zaw said the third matter on Shwe Mann’s trip could be China’s concern about the closer relationship between Burma and North Korea in recent years.
In a notice on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Chinese language Web site, the junta’s Deputy Chairman Maung Aye is scheduled to visit China in the near future.
Officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have also been visiting China recently. According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak visited China last week and met with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing on June 4.
Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is also scheduled to go to China in the near future, said diplomat sources.
In recent years, the international community has been making increasing efforts to bring about positive changes in Burma by trying to get Burma’s neighboring countries such as China, India and Asean members to put pressure on the junta for change.
Meanwhile, Goh Chok Tong is scheduled to meet with the head of the junta, Than Shwe, in Naypyidaw today along with Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye. Goh will also meet with Thura Tun Tin, a former prime minister under Ne Win’s Burmese Socialist Program Party regime.
Analysts say Goh’s agenda in Burma includes talks on Asean’s concerns on Suu Kyi and the Burmese political situation.