BEIJING — Fighting in the north of Burma between the military and the Kachin Independence Army is becoming increasingly intense and deadly.
The ongoing violence is not only a major challenge for the administration of Burmese President Thein Sein, but a growing concern for Beijing, as the conflict unfolds on doorstep of the China's southern Yunnan province.
Kachin rebels say over the past few days, Burmese government launched mortar attacks on the town of Laiza, which is located near the Chinese border. According to reports, the attacks killed at least three civilians and injured several others.
Late last week, Kachin living on both sides of the border, some in the Chinese town of Nabang and others in Laiza, rallied at a border checkpoint to protest the ongoing strife. Pictures that were posted online, showed protesters on the Burmese side holding up placards and Kachin in China standing, some with their arms folded, in silent protest.
The Kachin rebels and Burma’s government had managed to maintain a cease-fire until about 18 months ago, when fighting resumed. In recent weeks, Burmese troops have stepped up its intensity in the north of the country, using air power and artillery, turning Laiza into a war zone.
Ian Storey, a security analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, says China is clearly concerned about the conflict because it is taking place so close to its border.
"China does not want to see conflict and instability along its border for several reasons," he said. "One is that conflicts tend to [cause] an outpouring of refugees into Yunnan province. We have seen this with other conflicts in Burma. And also because there are a large number of PRC [Chinese] nationals who live on the other side of the border in Myanmar that are conducting business."
China has long prided itself on what it calls its non-interference approach to diplomacy. Some Chinese analysts say that, although the policy is generally good, it could end up hurting China in the case of what is going on in Burma.
Du Jifeng, a Southeast Asia policy analyst at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says that if China does not take a more active role the conflict might get worse.
Du says that, in addition to setting up a place for the two sides to meet, China could try to actively seek a compromise that both parties can agree on and will respect. He adds that China could also use less restraint when the Burmese government infringes on its airspace and territorial rights.
China has offered to host talks between the two sides in the nearby Chinese town of Ruili to try to broker a peace agreement. But as the conflict worsens, the likelihood of that happening remains unclear.
Ian Storey says China’s ability to broker a deal has its limits.
"I understand that in the past Chinese officials have participated as mediators. But at the end of the day it is really down to the Myanmar government and the Kachin Independence Organization to reach a resolution. China can try to facilitate that settlement, but it can't impose it on either of the parties," said Storey.
China has long been a key ally of Burma. But in recent years, the Burmese government has gradually begun to diversify its international portfolio and open links with Japan, the United States and the European Union.
Du says as Burma makes adjustments to its foreign policy and approach, China should do the same.
Du says that, although China has put great importance on working with Burma’s central government in the past, in the future it should interact more with city governments, other sectors and even those anti-government groups.
Analysts say that strengthening ties with minority groups, particularly at the local government level, could not only help the sides resolve the dispute, but ensure the conflict does not spread across the border as well.