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Through Chinese eyes: Tang Qifang (part 2)

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COMMENTS

13 September 2011 14:21

Interview with Tang Qifang, Southeast Asia specialist at the foreign ministry-affiliated China Institute of International Studies, byPeter Martin and David Cohen, who are conducting a series of interviews with Chinese academics and journalists, using reader-submitted questions. Part I here.

From Nicholas Farrelly of New Mandala: In 2011, longstanding ceasefire agreements are crumbling across Burma. The resumption of hostilities in the Shan and Kachin States has seen particularly heavy fighting already. What is China's role in these re-ignited border wars? Does the Chinese Government have the capacity to broker permanent peace in those deeply troubled areas? If it does, why has it remained so apparently reluctant to get involved?

This conflict, of course, is not a new one, and has very deep roots in history and tradition. We can see that especially since 2009 the military government has been trying to get more control over these areas. They want to control the local military powers, the local troops, so there has been a very big conflict. Of course, they managed to get rid of the powers of some of them, but other groups like the Kachin are still there.

I am not really an expert on the military, but I think that to some extent China has influence on the military government, especially in the area near the China-Myanmar border, but in other areas, like the area between Myanmar and India, I don't think China has any space to talk about that.

But because China cares about the security of its immigrants and investment, I think China will try its best to ask the government of Myanmar to keep the peace. But because of the balanced diplomacy of the Myanmar Government, they are also in touch with India and the US, so I don't think China has a very powerful influence.

From Khmerization: China has invested heavily in the Cambodian economy, but is also heavily involved in the destruction of Cambodian environment through its hydro-electric dam-building and deforestation. Do you think that Chinese investments are good for Cambodia or harmful to Cambodia in the long run? Do you think that, due to China's economic powerhouse, China can help power Cambodia into economic prosperity? Finally, Chinese leadership have tremendous political leverage over the Cambodian leadership, as strong as the political leverage they had with the Khmer Rouge leadership in the 1970s. With this kind of political influence, is there a risk that Cambodia could plunge into similar situation like during the Khmer Rouge regime?

Since the comprehensive free trade agreement took effect last year, more and more investment has been pouring into Cambodia, especially from the government and agricultural sector and things like that. So some things are happening which are bad for the environment of the Mekong river countries. You mentioned deforestation, which is not only bad for downstream countries, but also for China itself. As far the water problem, China and mother Mekong countries are cooperating and sharing these limited resources, but the problem should be sharing a limited resource, but finding ways to make more water resources.

So what China can do is to protect the environment and the resources of the river, is to keep the forest. But the Chinese Government cannot stop illegal logging inside China, and Chinese resources are not enough, so people are going outside China for them. I think that investment is necessary to support development, but the problem is what kind of development. Development could be just like what China did in the last three decades, depending only on human resources and consuming natural resources. I think we should try to help them avoid this kind of development.

I think an undeveloped country is just one that hasn't developed yet, so they have more opportunities than developed countries. They have access to more modern technology, so I think countries that want to make investments should think about what kind of welfare it can bring to the local country and the local environment. If development is just like what China did in the last three decades, well...you have the financial wealth, but you completely destroyed the environment. We have to make sure Cambodia doesn't develop like that.

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