The Difficulties In Building A Unified Front Against Myanmar’s Military Regime

On Friday the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an arms embargo against Myanmar, as well as a condemnation of its military’s seizure of power in February. The resolution was not unanimous by any means with over thirty-five nation abstaining. Predictably, China and Russia were two of them. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, yet they do carry a considerable amount of political weight provided that a majority of world and regional powers support their passage. In this case aside from China, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand were the other Southeast Asian nations that abstained. Belarus was the only nation to oppose the resolution.

Myanmar’s foreign ministry rejected the UN resolution, calling it a document “based on one-sided sweeping allegations and false assumptions.” The government has also sent a letter of objection to the office of the UN General Secretary.

Despite the resolution, a growing number of nations in Asia are reluctant to apply financial pressure on the regime in Myanmar. Stringent measures such as these run the risk of increasing China’s regional influence. India and Japan in particular have factored this into their respective policies regarding Myanmar. For the United States, the positions some of its allies in Asia have taken on Myanmar undermines its broad policy of defending democracies. This policy has become a keynote of the Biden administration’s foreign policy. India and China have also avoided joining Western democracies applying sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human-rights abuses in Xinjiang.

It appears the United States will have to face the fact that a united front against the military regime is simply not possible in the current climate. In principle, there’s minimal opposition to the theme of defending democracies and ensuring the safety of democratically elected regimes. However, once economic and geopolitical realities enter the equation, lofty principles take a back seat for most nation-states. Preventing China’s regional influence from rising, for example, is considerably more significant to New Delhi and Tokyo then punishing the military regime in Myanmar.

Apparently, this is something the Biden administration has overlooked

27 March, 2021 Update: Iran-China, Myanmar, Suez Canal

It’s becoming an active weekend around the world with hotspots flaring and some geopolitical and economic situations requiring close attention. We’ll start off in Tehran, then move on to Myanmar and wrap up in the Suez Canal.

Iran and China officially signed the long-anticipated 25-year strategic cooperation agreement on Saturday. The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, or CSP as it is referred to, has been discussed for years and speculation has been rampant. The agreement is centered on economic activity, according to a wide variety of third-party sources and analysts. However, there’s reason to suspect that military and intelligence cooperation also makes up a sizeable portion of the agreement. Neither country has revealed any concrete details on the agreement, leaving the terms a mystery to practically everyone outside of government circles in Tehran and Beijing. The confidentiality surrounding the CSP will no doubt only fuel further conjecture. Yet the one fact that cannot be disputed is that the CSP will bring a new era of increased Chinese influence in the Persian Gulf region. As well as perhaps emboldening Iran at a time when its relationship with the United States continues to decline.

Saturday has been a bloody day in Myanmar. Troops and police have reportedly killed 114 protesters around the country as government suppression of the protests has escalated to a new level. The heavy hand comes on Armed Forces Day, an annual holiday celebrated in Myanmar. Apparently, the military’s preoccupation with the protests in the cities has motivated the Karen National Union (No Joke, the Karens have organized 😊) to seize a military base in the Kayin state. The KNU has rejected the 1 February military coup. “Their bullying and killing of unarmed civilians across Myanmar is against our revolutionary force’s beliefs. We cannot accept inhumane acts, not only in Kayin state, but also in other areas,” Saw Htoo Ka Shaw, a KNU official said in a statement earlier today.

The MV Ever Given remains aground in the Suez Canal. Efforts continue to get the large container ship dislodged from its present position. On Friday evening, Egyptian officials expressed some hope after the ship’s rudder was freed. However, concern is growing over the economic fallout if the Ever Given remains unmoved for an extended period of time. Shipping analysts already estimate that the gridlock of container ships and oil tankers at either end of the canal has held up $10 billion in trade daily. It will simply be a matter of time before this situation has long term effects on economies and markets across the world. There is no firm timetable on when the Suez will be reopened to traffic. The one certainty hanging over the situation is that with the majority of global retail trade moving via sea, the effects will also soon be felt by shoppers in practically every country.

5 March, 2021: Myanmar Update

The United States has introduced trade sanctions against Myanmar in the aftermath of security forces killing thirty-eight protesters on Wednesday. Specifically, the sanctions will be made up of export controls against Myanmar’s Defense Ministry, and a trio of corporations that have close ties to the military. As the military continues to escalate the situation on the ground in Myanmar, the US sanctions signal that Washington is moving to set an example for the international community to follow. The State Department has also called on China to use its close relationship with Myanmar to restore calm and return the civilian government to power. The chances of Beijing doing this are remote, however. In February, China blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a condemnation of the coup and at the moment, China has more pressing issues to deal with.  

Inside of Myanmar there is growing anxiety about what the weekend will bring. Activists and protest groups have defiantly promised to continue demonstrations even in the face of security forces firing live ammunition at protesters. Meanwhile, as Myanmar braces for a potentially violent weekend, the military government is indifferent about blowback from the international community over the February coup. ‘We are used to sanctions, and we survived,’ Myanmar’s deputy military chief Soe Win informed the UN envoy to Myanmar last month. It will be interesting to see if the military government’s stance changes following the bloody day of protests this week.

28 February, 2021: Myanmar Update

This weekend has seen the crackdown in Myanmar intensify. Police and security forces confronted peaceful demonstrators at protest sites across the country. The use of lethal force has been reported by the UN human rights office, which claims to have received the information from highly credible sources. In Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, a large demonstration was confronted by police. The police charged at unarmed, non-violent protesters and when the protesters moved to reassemble, the police started using more heavy-handed tactics, according to an Al Jazeera journalist who witnessed the scene. Reports of police opening fire at other points in Yangon were soon published on social media outlets. Although most news outlets were unable to confirm the claims, or number of casualties, the UN human rights office has reported that at least 18 protesters have been killed over the weekend.

On the geopolitical front, Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations was fired by the nation’s military rulers after a speech he gave at the UN General Assembly on Friday. Tun urged the international community to use “any means necessary to take action” against the military to “ restore the democracy.” Tun concluded his remarks by saying he was representing Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted government.

General Strike In Myanmar

Protests blossomed in Myanmar on Monday despite stern threats by the military government to use lethal force against citizens who join a nationwide general strike. Businesses, factories and markets were closed in response to the call for a general strike across Myanmar. On Sunday evening, the military government made a public announcement on state television. “It is found that the protesters have raised their incitement towards riot and anarchy mob on the day of 22 February. Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life.” The government also blames criminals for inciting violence during past demonstrations which led the deaths of three protesters at the hands of security forces.

Reports, photographs and video from Monday’s protests show crowd numbers in the tens of thousands across Myanmar’s largest cities. The police have moved in to break up a number of anti-military demonstrations and have arrested upwards of 200 people. The military appears to have held back on its promise to use lethal force, but the reason for that decision remains a mystery. It’s very possible that increasing outside scrutiny is compelling the military government to restrain police and security forces.

An example of the growing foreign attention on Myanmar is the US warning that it will seek “against those who perpetrate violence against the people of Burma as they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken released this statement on Twitter. A State Department spokesperson released this follow up statement on Twitter shortly thereafter. “We call on the military to stop violence, release all those unjustly detained, cease attacks on journalists and activists, and respect the will of the people.”