Broadening the Breach
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, February 07, 2023
Magazine

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Broadening the Breach


By Bertil Lintner. JULY, 2000 - VOLUME 8 NO.7


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In a message mourning the old Chairman’s death, the CPB spoke of his role in containing revisionist tendencies within the CPC and thus "consolidating the People’s Republic of China (as) the reliable bulwark of the world proletarian revolution." But the CPB had reason to reevaluate the reliability of that bulwark when Deng reassumed power at a Central Committee meeting in Beijing in July 1977. Kang was gone, and so was Mao. The Beijing Review and other official Chinese publications, which had previously published battle news and CPB documents, stopped printing anything about the "revolutionary struggle in Burma". The CPB had been mentioned for the last time in November 1976 when CPB chairman Thakin Ba Thein Tin and vice chairman Thakin Pe Tint went to Beijing to call on Mao’s successor as Chairman, Hua Guofeng, who was soon to lose power to Deng. In was in that context that the Burmese military government, led by General Ne Win, quickly and shrewdly exploited the rift by lending its good offices to China in Cambodia, by then forming the focus of Chinese interest as concern in Beijing increased over Vietnam’s designs on its Indochinese neighbor. Communist forces had emerged victorious in all three Indochinese countries, only to fall out with each other, with China supporting the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, and the Soviet Union backing Vietnam and Laos. Ne Win’s visit to Phnom Penh paid off. In 1978, the CPB’s entire China-based central office, including the broadcasting station, the People’s Voice of Burma, was forced to return to Panghsang. The Chinese "volunteers" were also recalled. Relations between Beijing and Rangoon were showing signs of serious improvement for the first time in decades. Admittedly, Deng had at about the same time declared in Malaysia that "government-to-government" relations were different from "party-to-party" relations, thus implying that Chinese support for the CPB and similar communist rebellions in the region would continue. But the writing was on the wall: all the erstwhile Chinese patrons of Thakin Ba Thein Tin and the CPB were either dead or out of power—and Deng, the old "capitalist roader," to use the pejorative of the Red Guards, was back at the helm in Beijing. He had other plans for spreading China’s influence in Southeast Asia than arming communist revolutionaries. Faced with this new situation, the CPB central committee met for a marathon meeting that lasted from November 1978 to June 1979. The party’s fortieth anniversary on August 15, 1979 was subdued. In a lengthy speech to his sullen comrades, Thakin Ba Thein Tin emphasized that the party must be "self-reliant" and, without being specific, said that the CPB "had made many mistakes" during its 40-year long history. In other announcements, "non-interference" was declared as a major aspect of the CPB’s relations with "fraternal communist parties". The CPB continued its struggle for another ten years, but in 1989, a mutiny among the mainly hill-tribe rank and file of the party’s army—which made up more than 90% of the communist fighting force—drove the old, mainly Burman Maoist leadership into exile in China, where they still remain. The old CPB army split up along ethnic hill-tribe lines into four different regional resistance armies, which soon entered into cease-fire agreements with the Burmese government in Rangoon. The most powerful of these former rebel armies to spring out of the old CPB was the United Wa State Army (UWSA), today Southeast Asia’s main armed drug smuggling organization. Although the ultimate demise of the CPB was chiefly due to its own failure to pick the winners in the power struggle within the Chinese leadership, Ne Win’s visit to Phnom Penh in 1977 may also have played an important role in weakening the CPB and thus preventing it from taking over Burma. Just as regional power politics prompted even the so-called "pragmatist" Deng Xiaoping to continue his support for Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge well into the 1990s, China’s support for Burma’s Maoists could conceivably have continued if not for Ne Win’s readiness to exploit the rift that had appeared between the BCP and China’s reformist leaders.


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