Written by Liu Yun.
On 19 April 2017, the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) was formed by the 4th Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) Pangkham summit with the task of “discussing with the government of Union of Myanmar regarding the issues of peace-building in Myanmar.” Its 27 authorised representatives belong to seven Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) non-signatories of the Arakan Army (AA), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) and the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The FPNCC membership was declared to be open to qualified EAOs, political parties on ethnic affairs as well as high-profile individuals.
Today, the 30,000-member UWSA is the strongest Ethnic Armed Organisation in the country (and also the strongest non-state army of the world); its members are heavily armed with sophisticated Chinese-made weapons.
The rationale of the new ethnic alliance was to consolidate an alternative way to the NCA for Myanmar’s Peace Process which has been deadlocked. On 10 August 2017, Khu Oo Reh of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) said that after 14 months of talks between his organisation and the government “the level of trust is now at zero.” In fact, the gloomy UNFC had paved the way for the birth of the FPNCC: four of its founding members – KIA, SSPP/SSA, MNDAA and AA – broke away from the UNFC due to “local conditions and the military’s pressure and divisive rule.”
For the time being Nay Pyi Taw is still reluctant to begin talks with the FPNCC whose members such as KIA and MNDAA have been fighting bitterly against the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) since 2011. Despite that, the FPNCC has set its own agenda concerning its leading body (Standing Committee), executive bodies (Secretariat and Negotiating Delegation), liaison offices, committee charter, political documents (general principles and detailed demands) and financial contributions.
UWSA’s dominant role
The rise of the FPNCC was the low-hanging fruit of a series of EAOs Pangkham summits held consistently at the UWSA headquarters. I had briefly discussed in an earlier piece written for Tea Circle about the outcome of the 3rd Pangkham summit where the short-lived predecessor of the FPNCC was proposed and expeditiously kicked into gear. The UWSA’s dominant role was boldly demonstrated in the summit communique, “we agreed to set up a political body, led by the UWSA, to negotiate with the union government, under the acceptance of the ‘Wa state’s general principle and detailed demands on political negotiation.’” Bao Youxiang, the UWSA’s Commander-in-Chief, was installed as the FPNCC Chairman, while other “Wa State” top leaders Bao Youyu and Zhao Guoan, both believed to be at the right hand of Bao Youxiang, took responsibilities to lead the FPNCC Secretariat. N’Ban La of KIA, after stepping down as the UNFC’s Chairman, has assumed an awkward, somehow ceremonial role as the so-called “second chairman” of the FPNCC. Rumour has it that an unwritten rule was set for the KIA to follow policies made by the UWSA, directed by Chinese imperatives for border stability and the Belt & Road Initiative.
Security concerns are deep-rooted in the UWSA. Today, the 30,000-member UWSA is the strongest EAO in the country (and also the strongest non-state army of the world); its members are heavily armed with sophisticated Chinese-made weapons, such as Man-portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS), 122mm howitzers and armoured fighting vehicles. It has become a knee-jerk reaction to suspect the UWSA of involvement in any major military action along the Sino-Myanmar border. On 14 March 2017, at an urgent face-to-face meeting with senior UWSA officials, China’s Special Envoy for Asian Affairs, Sun Guoxiang, asked Zhao Guoan, Chief of External Relations for the “Wa State”, whether the UWSA had planned or was planning to have a hand in the offensives which began on 6 March against the Tatmadaw. This allegation has been categorically denied by Mr. Zhao.
Impact on Myanmar’s Peace Process
The FPNCC, a UWSA-led ethnic alliance has now entered into uncharted waters of Myanmar’s Peace Process to which State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has attached the highest priority. More importantly, Beijing has promised to back her up. Unfortunately there has been a “dark theory” circulated among EAOs indicating that “just like the military, she does not trust the armed ethnic groups, and wishes to teach them a lesson, using the conflict to force them into making concessions at the negotiation table.” In contrast, the FPNCC could be politically much more open-minded and pragmatic about Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts to uphold the peace process; but, the NCA as a whole was forcefully dismissed by top leaders of the UWSA. Recently, Zhao Guoan, in his capacity as FPNCC Executive Deputy Secretary-General, said “we are not opposed to the NCA, but rather to the voting mechanism and political talks framework the NCA includes.”
It is worried that the FPNCC’s military tactics could have an adverse effect upon Sino-Myanmar border stability. Since November 2016, the offensives of the so-called “Northern Alliance” have made the situation on the border totally unstable. In light of this, the FPNCC needs to achieve an “early harvest” of ensuring border stability in cooperation with the union government. If such efforts fail — no matter who should be blamed — the FPNCC would sadly see a premature end.