The United Wa State Army (UWSA), Myanmar’s largest ethnic armed organization, is detaining Christian clergymen for questioning and destroying “unauthorized” churches in the area under its control near the Chinese border, according to news reports this week.

Radio Free Asia and the Mizzima website in Myanmar compiled reports this week following an Asia Times exclusive on Monday (Sept. 17), which quoted an internal document from the UWSA’s political wing, the United Wa State Party, that pledged to punish any local cadres who support missionary activities and banned the construction of new churches.

Wa state is an autonomous area in northern Shan state close to the Chinese border.

An undated video (below), which appears to show UWSA officers overseeing the demolition of a new church in Wa state, has also gone viral on Facebook and other social media.

Pressure from Chinese authorities across the border is believed to be behind the move.

The Chinese Communist Party see missionaries as tools of Western influence among Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, several of whom, such as the Wa, have Christians among them.

Chinese officials also view Western non-government organizations, especially those that are faith-based, as rivals seeking to influence Myanmar’s peace process – or even as foreign agents.

China has successfully managed to sideline most Western actors since a series of talks between the Myanmar army and government, and the country’s many ethnic armed groups began in 2012.

Beijing’s interest in Myanmar goes well beyond peace-making. It seeks to gain influence in Myanmar in order to secure control over the “The China-Myanmar Economic Corridor”, which is a vital part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Myanmar not only connects China with markets in South and Southeast Asia but also provides it with access to the Indian Ocean for geostrategic influence.