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/* Written Wed 4 Oct 6:00am 1995 by DRUNOO@xxxxxxxxxxxx(DR U NE OO) in
igc:reg.burma */
/* ------- Bertil Lintner: Myanmar's Chinese connection ------  */

Following  article  from  International  Defense Review, November 94
given some information about arms sales from China and Singapore.
-- U Ne Oo.


For more than five years, Myanmar( formerly Burma) has been a major
recipient  of  Chinese  weapons.  Eager to win allies in the region
following the crackdown in Tiananmen Square, China began to  supplu
vast amounts of military material to Myanmar in 1990. This was at a
time  when  the  teh  government in Yangon ( formerly Rangoon ) was
also being condemned by the rest of the world for its abysmal human
rights record, and most Western powers had imposed a de facto  arms
embargo  on  Yangon.  Now , however, Myanmar is trying to diversify
its sources of military hardware.

The Burmese are complaining about the poor quality of  the  Chinese
equipment,  as  well  as problems with maintenance and spare parts.
However, Yangon's decision to look elsewhere for weapons also seems
to be politically motivated.  The  heavy  dependence  on  China  as
almost the sole supplieer has led to discontent in the armed forces
which  fear  that  the  country's  traditional  neutrality has been
compromised. Yangon has also noted that its close relationship with
China has caused concern among  other  neighbours  in  the  region,
whose good will Myanmar needs to break its internaitonal isolation.

Yangon's  special  relationship  with Beijing began in October 1989
when Lieutenant General Than  Shwe  (  then  vice-chairman  of  the
ruling  State  Law  and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC,but now
its chairman and general) led a 24-men team on a  12-day  visit  to
China. The delegation also included Myanmar's powerful intelligence
hief  Brigadire  General  (  now  Liewtenatnt-General)  Khin Nyunt,
together with army, navy and airforce commanders and personnel from
Myanmar's defense industries.

The high profile nature of the visit was evident in Biejing,  where
the  Burmese  guests met Prime Minister Li Pang, army chief General
Chi Haotian and defense minister Qin Jiwei. They were also taken to
Shijiazhuang, where they inspected F-6 and F-7 jet fighters  and  a
rocket factory operated by Norinco, the state run defense insustry.
Later,  the  team  went  to  the naval dockyards in Shanghai before
returning to Yangon.

At the time, Nyunt stated publicly:" We sympathize with the  People
Republic  of China as disturbances similar to those in Myanmar last
year [recently also] broke out in the People's Republic."

Intelligence sources believe that the basos for  Myanmar's  massive
arms deal was made during this visit. During this period, estimates
of  the value of the deal varied from more cautious Western figures
of US$400 milliton to US$500 million to Asian intellignece  sources
claim  that  it  amoounted  to  US$  1.2 Billion to US$1.4 billion.
Subsequent deliveries  --  and  intelligence  about  expected  arms
deliveries  indicate  that  the  latter  estimate  is closer to the
actual total.

The first delivery of Chinese arms took place almost a  year  after
Shwe's  and  Nyunt's important visit to China. On 10 August 1990, a
Chinese freighter docked at Yangon and unloaded anti-aircraft guns,
small arms and ammunition.

Since then, a seemingly never-ending stream  of  Chinese  arms  has
been  pouring  into  MYanmar: more than 200 light and medium tanks,
including T-63, T-69IIs; the Chinese version of  the  soviet  PT-76
light  amphiboous  tanks  (T83);  armoured  personnel  carriers and
infantry fignting vehicles; at  least  30  Norinco  Type  63  107mm
multiple  rocket  launchers,  a  sizeable  quantity of 37 mm single
barrel anit aircraft guns; HN 5A shouldered-fired  surface  to  air
missiles,  US$290  million  worth  of  light  arms  and ammunition;
artillery  pieces;  radio  sets  for  military  use;  night  vision
devices; nearly 1000 5t jiefang trucks; and radar equipment.

Some of this material was delivered through the port at Yangon, but
most  of  the  small  arms and lighter equipment arrived in convoys
overland from China, along the Burma Road of Second World War fame,
and which crosses the frontire near the town of Ruili in Yunan.

Intellignece sources say these surface deliveries were  coordinated
form  Chengdu  regional  military  headquarters,  which is alos the
centre for suppling the People's Liberation Army forces  in  Tibet.
This  helps  explain  the  strategic  context  in which the Chinese
viewed  their  expansion  into  Myanmar;  as  a  client  state  for
southward  expansion. The importance of this aspect was underscored
in late June this year, when the Chengdu Military Region commander,
General Li Jiulong paid a highly publicized visit to Myanmar.

Apart  from  becoming  a  recipient  of  Chinese military hardware,
Myanmar was also flooded with cheap Chinese  consumer  goods,   and
timber.  Precious  stones and other raw materials were trucked back
into the border province of Yunana. Thousands  of  Chinese,  mainly
Yunan,  have  also  bought  false  Burmese  identity  cards through
corrupt officials, and moved into northern cities  such  as  Lashio
and  Mandalay as "Burmese citizens". Real estate and other property
in northern Myanmar has been taken over by these new "immigrants".

Myanmar's  military  leaders,  on  their part were hard pressed for
supplies to  equip their rapidly expanding army: in the wake  of  a
massive pro-democracy uprising in 1988, and a humiliating defeat in
a  general  election  which was held in May 1990 -- after which the
army did not relinquish power, but  launched  a  crackdown  on  the
pro-democracy  forces  that swept that election - the SLORC decided
to more than  double  the  forces  under  its  command.  The  three
services  of Myanmar's armed forces numbered 185,000-190-000 before
the 1988 uprising.  Today's  estimates  vary  between  300-000  and
400,000  troops,  depending  on  the  source.  Defence intelligence
sources  in  Southeast  Asia  say  the  uletimate  aim  is  500,000
perspnnel in the army, navy and air force combined.

The air force has also been boosted by the delivery of Chinese-made
F-7  jet  fighters,  with  the first squadron arriving in early May
1991. Today, Myanmar has acquired or is ordering from China a total
of three squadrons of F-7 fighters and two squadrons of  NAMC  A-5M
close support aircraft. A Burmese squadron consists of 12 aircraft,
and  the  F-7  Batch  includes 30 single-seat versions and six twin
seat trainers. In addition, in September 1992 China  delivered  two
SAC  Y-8D  medium  range  transport  planes,  with a further two on


the navy has so far received 10 Hainan-class  naval  patrol  boats,
plus  radar  equipment. The naval craft have been accompanied by 70
Chinese naval personnel  -  over  half  of  whom  are  middle  rank
officers  -  to assist the Burmese in operating the boats, training
local crew and maintaining neewly installed radar equipment. At the
same time, Myanmar's naval strength doubled to 15,000 men including
a battalion of naval infantry. The  navy  has  also  ordered  three
1,865  ton  Jianghu  053 frigates but the delivery has been delayed
because of technical problems.

While Myanmar's  neighbours  had  been  watching  with  unease  the
massive  shipments  to  its  army  and  airforce,  it  was  China's
involvement in the upgrading of the navy that caused alarm  in  the
region. In late 1992, US sattilites detected a new , 150 ft antenna
for  signals  intelligence  at  the  naval  base  on Coco island. a
Buremse possession in the indian ocean. The susppicion thatthis new
equipment was likely to be operated at least  in  part  by  chinese
techiicians led to fears that Beijing's intelligence agencies would
monitor this sensitive maritime region.

Recent  intelligence reports indicate that the Chinese are pressing
the Burmese to allow them  access  to  three  major,  strategically
located  listening islands along Myanmar's coast on ramree south of
Sittwe,  the  western  Arakan  State,  on Coco Island in the Indian
Ocean, and at Zadetkyi Kyun ( or  St.  Matthew's  Island)  off  the
southeastern  Tenasserim  coast.  The last is especially sensitive:
this long, rugged island is  located  off  the  coast  of  Myanmars
southermost  point,  Kawthaung  or  Victoria  Point,  close  to the
northern entrance of the Strait of Malacca.

India  especially  was  viewing  the  developments  with  increased
concern.  LCoco  Island  is located barely 30nmi from India's naval
base on the Andaman Islands. Any sophisticated signals intelligence
equipment on Coco island would also  be  able  to  observe  India's
missile  tests at Chandipur-on-sea on the northern coast of the Bay
of  Bengal.  India  is  known  to  have  made  several   diplomatic
representations to Yangon on the issue.

Indonesian  officials,  always  wary  of China's extra-terroitorial
intentions, also made their opinions known,  at  least  in  private
conversations.  LThe magazine Khaota in Thailand, which is close to
the military published a lengthy article about China's  direct  and
indirect  naval  presence  in the region, highlighting Kadan Island
off the coast of Mergui in southeastern Myanmar, where some Chinese
instructors were said to  be  based.  Since  Kadan  Island  is  not
mentioned in any intelligence reports, it is possible that the Thai
artuor of the article, General Tanapot Boonyopattakam, had confused
it  with  St.  Matthew's  Island.  Whatever  the  case, the article
reflected Thai concertns about Chinese moves into the area.

Some of these fears may have been exaggerated, but  local  analysis
believe  that  there  was  a  significant  Chinese threat, and that
mattered perhaps more than actual reality.  Traditionally,  Myanmar
has  been  a  buffer state between Asia's largest and most populous
countries - India and China - and strict neutrility  between  these
two powers has been maintained by successive governments in Yangon.
Only the present SLORC regime has deviated from that policy.

Evan  Burmese  themselves,  perhaps  feeling  the  heat  from their
neighbours, were becoming worried about  the  extent  that  China's
influence  had  reached in their country, economically, politically
and militarily. Credible intelligence reports  indicate  that  many
middle-ranking  officers,  especially  at  the  prestigious Defence
Service  Academy  in  Maymyo  at  internal  meetings  and  seminars
expressed their dissasfaction with the unprecendented dependence on

A  few  years after the first delivery, many soldiers also began to
complain about the poor performance of the Chinese equipments.  The
artillery pieces were clumsy and heavy and misfired frequestly. The
armoured  vehicles  broke  down  often and were in any case useless
against the rebels who operate in  Myanmar's  mountainous  frontier
areas.  Chinese  army  trucks  were  not  nearly  as  good  as  the
Japanese-supplied Hino and Nissan vehicles which the  Burmese  army
also  uses.  C  omplaints  have  been  voiced  also  over  the poor
performance of the Hainai class patrol boats.

The next country after China to enter the Burmese arms  bazaar  was
Singapore.   The  first  arms  shipment  from  Singaport ot Myanmar
actually took place as early as 6 October 1988, within weeks of the
SLORC's takeover. That shipment - which is thought to have  been  a
barter  deal,  considering  the fact that the Burmese government at
the time was on the verge of bankruptcy - consisted of  ammunition,
and  second-hand  RPG2s and 57mm recoiless guns of East Bloc origin
which may have originated in Isreal.

Pictires of the equipment indicate that they came from  Palestinian
stocks captured by Isreal when it invaded southern Lebanon in 1983.
Given  the  vast amounts of weaponry that entered the international
arms market via Isreal  after  the  war  in  Lebanon,  intelligence
sources  say  is perfectly possible thatIsreeli government may have
been unaware of the final destination of the cargo.

Western intelligence sources in Southeast  Asia  also  assert  that
private  companies  in  Singaporre  have  arranged for several more
shady arms deals since this  first  shipment,  often  acting  as  a
middle-men  with countries which would not normally sell weapons to
Myanmar. These practices caused embarrassment  in  Lisbon  in  late
1922  when  it  was  discovered  that  Singaporean  middle  men had
arranged for the shipment to Myanma4 of  US$1.5  million  worth  of
120mm  and  81mm  mortars  manufactured  in  Portugal. The shipment
violated the European Community arms embargo on Myanmar's  military
regime,  but  there  was  not much Lisbon could do as it had little
influence  over  the  private  company  -  Companhia  de   Polvoras
Mounicoes  Barcarena  SA  -  which  had  arranged  for  the  alomst
untraceable transhipment via Singaporean middle-men.

More recently, private companies in Singapore have arranged for the
sale of Singaporean weapons to Myanmar. This  may  include  locally
amde  M-16s  in violation of US export laws Myanmar has also bought
more 20 "Hoplite" Mi-2  armed  helicopters  and  at  least  13  PZL
Swindnik  transport helicopters from Poland - despite protests from
the United States and the European Union.


Evan more importantly, Singaporean techincians  are  now  upgrading
Myanmar's  defense  industry.  A  significant but unknown number of
Singapore experts have been based at Padaung opposite Prome on  the
Irrawaddy river north of UYangon, replacing German technicians from
the Fritz Werner company who were there in the past.

Intelligence  sources  also  report  that  arms  dealers from Chile
visited Yangon early thie year. This  may  involve  procurement  of
naval  equipment  from  Gartha,  a Kuala Lumpur based subsidiary of
ASMAR (Astilleros Militares de la  Armada),  a  company  owned  and
runned by Chile's armed forces. This company has shown interests in
selling  a  wide range of military hardware not only to Myanmar but
also to Cambodia, another country in the  region  which  is  facing
difficulties in obtaining weapons from the West.

It is seen as significant that Myanmar is going through the trouble
of  finding  other sources of weapons - especially given the severe
difficulties it has to  obtain  military  hardware  from  countries
other  than China. Intelligence sources say it is evident that even
Myanmar itself is becoming more nervous about  China's  intentions,
and that it feels uncomfortable with criticism from its neighbours.

Myanmar's neighbours have reacted to the military build-up there in
a  way which differs considerably from the West's policy of an arms
embargo. The arms deals with  Singoaporean  firms  may  be  private
affairs,  but  it  is nevertheless evident that the island republic
considers Myanmar one of its potentially  most  important  regional
allies.  Myanmar  has  the  same  resources to offer as Malaysia in
terns of raw materials, but with out the friction that has  existed
between  Singapore  and Malaysia since the former was thrown out of
the latter in 1965.

It is also widely believe that Singapore feels  uncomfortable  with
the  Malay-Muslim  dominance of the Association of South-East Asian
Nations (ASEAN) and wants to strengthen the "Sinitic"  bloc,  which
now  includes  only Singapore and Thailand. Trade between Singapore
and Myanmar now totals US$370 million-US$400 million  annually,  up
from  less  than  US$100  million before 1988. This makes Singapore
Myanmar's biggest foreign trading partner after China.

In may 1993, Nyunt led a 22-man delegation to Singapore,  and  this
visit  was  seen  by  observers  in  Southeast Asia as important in
persuading the SLORC to adopt what at least outwardly appears to be
more pragmatic policies - and, sources say,  to  woo  Myanmar  away
from China.

In  March  of  this  year, Singapore's Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong
paid a highly publicized visit to Myanmar. Significantly, the SLORC
chairman said in his welcoming speech:"my expression  will  not  be
complete  if  I  do not put on recored the most constructive vision
and pragmatic advice of Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, in  providing
an atmosphere of mutual confidence between our two countries."

Even  India,  which  has  been  more  suspicious of Myanmar's close
relationship with China than any other country in the  region,  has
changed  from  outright  condemnation  of the regime to an approach
which is more akin to ASEAN's policy of  "constructive  engagement"
with  the  SLORC.  This  was demonstrated when in May this year the
Indian army chief. Bipin Chandra Joshi, arrived in Yangon. This was
the first such visit by an Indian army chief to Myanmar, and it was
prominently displayed on the  front  pages  of  Myanmar's  strictly
state-controlled press.

To  what  extent Myanmar's neighbours will manage to help it lessen
its dependence on China remains to be seen.  But  the  process  has
begun  -  and  Thailand's decision to invite Myanmar as a "guest of
the host country" during an important ASEAN meeting which was  held
in Bangkok in JUly should also be seen in this perspective.