China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) will soon begin live-fire military drills in the southwestern province of Yunnan, just across the border from Myanmar's conflict-torn Shan State region of Kokang, official media reported on Monday.
The joint army and air-force drill is "scheduled in accordance with training plans," the state news agency Xinhua quoted Chengdu military area command spokesperson Zhao Picong as saying.
"No aircraft will be allowed to enter the airspace of the drill without permission, and vehicles entering the drill areas in [Yunnan's] Gengma and Zhenkang counties will be subject to traffic controls," Xinhua reported, citing a PLA statement.
Tensions are running high in the remote and mountainous border region after the conflict repeatedly spilled across the border into Yunnan since Kokang rebel forces led by Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) under ethnic Chinese commander Peng Jiasheng launched a bid to retake the region on Feb. 9.
One effect of the drills will be to seal off the border region to Chinese nationals, many of whom have crossed into Myanmar to help civilians displaced by the fighting, and some of whom have been accused of spying for China and fighting on the rebel side.
Locals will not be allowed to enter the drill areas without a permit, Xinhua reported, adding that the Myanmar authorities have already been informed of the drill.
It said no end date has yet been set for the exercises.
At least seven people were injured in explosions on the Chinese side of the border during fighting last month between Myanmar government troops and rebel forces, sources told RFA at the time.
Myanmar has already acknowledged responsibility for a bomb mistakenly dropped in Yunnan province by its air force on March 13, killing five Chinese nationals, which prompted Beijing to mobilize jet fighters along the border.
Local people hit out at the PLA at the time for its lack of military response to the incident.
Taiwan military affairs commentator Zheng Shaoru said the PLA is likely waking up to the fact that it needs to project a more assertive presence in Yunnan.
"China's response to border clashes in the northern Myanmar conflict hasn't been robust enough," Zheng said. "This has led to criticism from within China, leveled at the troops in the border region in particular."
"[There is a lot of] anger at their indecisiveness, in particular related to the firing of Myanmar government shells across the border leading to deaths and injuries and damage to people's property on the Chinese side, and the repeated incursions by Myanmar government fighter jets," he said.
He said Beijing had so far been very restrained in its reactions towards Myanmar, for fear of damaging ties that have improved only in recent years.
"They are afraid that, if they make a strong response, that they will damage this rather sensitive and tenuous relationship," Zheng said.
Online commentator Wu Bin, known by his nickname Xiucai Jianghu, said the PLA has a reputation within China for weakness when it comes to external challenges.
"They are very hard-line regarding domestic matters, where they rely on weaponry, but very weak when it comes to external matters, where they rely on diplomatic protest," Wu said.
"To the rest of the the world, they are cuddly lambs, but within China, they are the big, bad wolf," he said, adding that China's rulers are more worried about threats from within the country than about foreign military aggression.
"The Chinese government has forfeited the trust of the people, and the thing they fear the most is that they will have to deal simultaneously with hostility from overseas and an uprising at home, and that everything will fall apart," Wu said.
"That's why they will put up with overseas [hostility], and won't take any action."
Online commentators appeared to welcome the PLA's announcement on Monday.
"Military exercises are the biggest form of military threat, short of waging outright war," social media user @luguang commented.
"I expect there will be some missiles from our dear army that fall 'accidentally in Myanmar," user @renmenyizhirenwei added.
The MNDAA launched a bid to retake the rugged and mountainous Kokang region, a corner of Shan state which it had controlled until 2009, beginning on Feb. 9 in the Kokang regional capital Laukkai.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.