Tatmadaw (Myanmar military), Chinese government, Three Brotherhood Alliance (TBA) consisting of Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA),
Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TLNA).
On 16/01/2024, the Arakan Army, an armed ethnic group in the west of Myanmar claimed full control of Paletwa, a city on the border of India and Bangladesh.
On 12/01/2024, the Chinese government negotiated a ceasefire agreement between the Tatmadaw and the TBA, an alliance between three well-armed ethnic groups who gained considerable gains against the Tatmadaw. The so-called “Operation 1027” began on October 27 2023, and has made several advances in the eastern Chin state on the border with China.
The Beijing-led talks in the Chinese city of Kunming said representatives from the Myanmar military and the TBA had committed to a “temporary ceasefire and withdrawal of military personnel”. The Chinese government said that the de-escalation of the situation in Myanmar conforms to all parties’ interests and will help maintain peace and stability at the China-Myanmar border.
On 05/01/2024, the main strategic objective of the TBA was achieved. The city of Laukkaing fell to the TBA forces after a months-long assault on the city and the surrounding area. The regional Myanmar military command surrendered along with 1,000 personnel. The Tatmadaw admitted that the coordinated assault is the most serious challenge to its rule since February 2021.
On 04/01/2024 a shell fired from Myanmar landed on the Chinese side of the border. The Chinese foreign ministry voiced “strong dissatisfaction” with the action.
On 01/01/2024, an MNDAA commander said that the military operation had secured 250 military targets, border crossings with China and fulfilled an objective of the operation to stop widespread online gambling fraud along the China-Myanmar border, taking out 300 cyber scam centers and returning 40,000 Chinese nationals involved in cyber crimes.
The TBA offensive delivered the worst set back to the military regime in Myanmar in decades. The capture of regional capital Laukkaing and Paletwa is a blow to the regime’s authority. The armed groups were successful because they had prepared in advance of the offensive, utilizing the conflict economies of the east of the country and conscripting military personnel. They were also partially supported by China through access to Chinese-manufactured weapons, ammunition and commercial aerial vehicles.
Whether the ceasefire led by China will hold remains to be seen. Beijing has completed its objective in removing the people smuggling gangs and scamming networks based in Myanmar which posed risks to Chinese nationals. The ethnic armed groups in the Chin state are attempting to restart trade and may be working toward consolidating their territorial gains instead of overthrowing the Myanmar military regime entirely. However, the last ceasefire negotiated in late December by China lasted barely two days. The ceasefire agreement has been acknowledged by the military and TBA, but there is no precise mention of the specific areas where hostilities will cease.
While the ceasefire is important, the resilience of the Tatmadaw has been put in question. The Tatmadaw has been unable to take territory from other groups yet continues to use aircraft, artillery and scorched earth tactics to terrorize ethnic groups. However, the fall of multiple towns, the surrender of military personnel, and the Tatmadaw’s failure to address attacks on multiple fronts could lead other armed groups to capitalize and start further attacks across the country. For elites within the regime, a failure of leadership to address threats to the military could also lead to further in-fighting among elites.
In the medium term, the ceasefire could play into Beijing’s strategy to gain leverage over individual armed groups by allowing limited gains in specific territories and keep the Tatmadaw in power, as well as assuring all groups dependence on Beijing to maximize its leverage over the country. Beijing prioritizes stability in Myanmar above all, and has suggested a push toward the electoral process if it conforms to stability.
The success of the AA on the border of India and Bangladesh reveals the continuing challenges the Tatmadaw faces since the beginning of Operation 1027. The disparate groups fighting in Myanmar may cause the regime split into smaller fractions, with still significant air power and artillery. Given the economic and military weight of China in the country, both the TBA and the Tatmadaw are deeply dependent on China’s interests. Even if the ceasefire holds, both the Tatmadaw and ethnic groups are likely to attempt to regain territory. The civil war in Myanmar is therefore likely to continue. The escalating violence has added to the refugees fleeing from the conflict, with 1.35 million leaving the country and a further 2.3 million people internally displaced, according to the United Nations.