Ethnic armies vow to protect Chinese investment in Myanmar pipeline areas

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We will take effective actions against those trying to damage international investments, says a joint statement from the three ethnic armies

Three ethnic armies that control territory that China-backed oil and gas pipelines pass through in early July that they will protect Chinese investments in their areas following pressure from Beijing to do so, reports The Irrawardy.

“We will take effective actions against those trying to damage international investments,” a joint statement from the three ethnic armies said, referring to the twin pipeline.

It was issued jointly by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA), which are collectively known as the “three army brotherhood.”

All three ethnic armies have been assisting resistance groups fighting the regime, but they are under mounting pressure from China. Last month, representatives of the three ethnic armies joined the regime’s peace talks at China’s request. The talks failed.

The MNDAA and TNLA control areas in northern Shan State near the border with China, while the AA is active in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The pipeline passes through areas they control to China.

The Chinese-invested project spans nearly 800 kilometres, comprising twin pipelines running from the port of Kyaukphyu in Rakhine State on the Bay of Bengal through Magwe and Mandalay regions and finally through northern Shan State before entering China.

The crude oil pipeline can transport 22 million tons annually, while the natural gas pipeline can carry up to 12 billion cubic meters of gas a year.

The joint statement was released at China’s request, TNLA spokesperson Lt-Colonel Mai Aik Kyaw told The Irrawaddy.

“China has been requesting this kind of protection from us not only now but all the time, since the areas where we operate are quite close to the borderline with China,” he said.

China has been asking the alliance to avoid fighting near the border so that trade between two countries is not affected, the Lt-Colonel added.

However, the statement sparked speculation because Chinese-invested projects are considered safer in territories controlled by the alliance than they are in other parts of the country.

China has attracted anger from anti-regime resistance groups due to its cozy relations with the regime. Some resistance groups in central Myanmar have threatened to attack Chinese-owned projects. The oil and gas pipelines pass through central Myanmar, while Chinese-invested cooper and nickel mines are also located in the region. Reports say regime security forces at pipeline off-take stations have been attacked.

The joint statement could be a message telling other resistance groups to refrain from attacking Chinese-invested projects in other parts of country, observers speculated, pointing out that the three ethnic armies are assisting some resistance groups.

The safety of the pipeline has been a priority for China, especially after the 2021 coup when anti-China sentiment surged in Myanmar due to Beijing’s close ties to Naypyitaw. In September of the same year, China pushed the junta to increase security for Chinese projects in Myanmar, including pipelines.

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