02.12.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Aggravation of the situation in Myanmar

Aggravation of the situation in Myanmar

Since the end of October this year, the situation in Myanmar (thirty years earlier called Burma) has again been the subject of increased attention from world news agencies. Although not as close, of course, as in the cases of armed conflicts in Ukraine, and now in the Middle East.

However, the first reports of a sharp intensification of hostilities between government forces and armed formations of several insurgent movements, which began simultaneously in various regions of Myanmar, standing many hundreds of kilometers apart, did not pass the front pages of world publications. Each of these movements reflects the ethno-religious-social specifics of a particular region of an extremely complex country.

It would seem that there is nothing in common between these “specifics”, but two months after the military coup that took place on February 1, 2021 in Myanmar, there were reports of the formation of the “Brotherhood of Three” opposing the new regime. The specified “Brotherhood” included two armed formations operating in the northeastern Shan state bordering the PRC. The roots of one of them go back to the heyday of the production and sale of drugs in this state, while the second is a fragment of the Communist Party of Burma. The third (openly separatist) movement operating in the western state of Rakhine claims to represent the Muslim ethnic and religious minority of the Rohingya.

However, in the next two and a half years, the “Brotherhood of Three” did not declare itself in any noticeable way. Therefore, it is not surprising that the attention of the world media to the previously unprecedented scale of the hostilities that have unfolded since October 27 in Myanmar, which appeared as if “immediately-suddenly and everywhere”. Although armed incidents of different nature have been more like the everyday life of this country for decades.

It should also be noted that the frequent dramatic episodes of the development of the situation in Myanmar over the past three or four decades have repeatedly turned out to be a reason for serious disagreements between the leading participants of the current stage of the “Big World Game”. This is primarily due to the extremely important strategic position that this country occupies in the sub-region of Southeast Asia. Moreover, it is very rich in a variety of natural resources.

The PRC, that is, one of such players, is trying to solve the problem of political and strategic importance on the land bypass of the vulnerable Strait of Malacca. For this purpose, in particular, a project called the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) has been implemented since 2013. CMEC includes a network of both roads and railways connecting the southwestern border Chinese province of Yunnan with the ports of Myanmar, located on the shore of the Bay of Bengal in the aforementioned Rakhine State, and oil and gas pipelines. Another similar goal-setting project is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Both of them represent the most important elements of the global Belt and Road Initiative project.

In January 2020, Chinese Leader Xi Jinping visited Myanmar for the first time in the previous 20 years. During the visit, he held talks with both then leaders of the country, that is, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was once an icon of the world “human rights movement” (however, by that time she had already “lost the trust” of this latter), and the head of the military elite, General Min Aung Hlaing. The main result of this visit was an agreement to accelerate the implementation of the CMEC project.

A year later, from the informal ruling “duumvirate”, only General Hline remained at the top of power in Myanmar, and Ms. Suu Kyi went through a series of trials, the result of which was a sentence of imprisonment for the next 33 years. However, in August of this year, the military leadership, which has been ruling alone since February 1, “shortened” this term to 27 years. Which is still a lot for, to put it mildly, a very elderly woman.

Since the coup, the situation in Myanmar in general and the fate of Ms. Suu Kyi, in particular, have been the reason for continuous attacks on both diplomatic and propaganda plans by the United States and its closest allies. With the connection, of course, of the same global “human rights movement”. Almost all international platforms are used to carry out such attacks.

However, already at the end of April 2021, that is, three months after the military coup, the ASEAN Regional Association, of which Myanmar is also a member, actively joined this process. At the summit held at that time, a “five-point plan” was adopted to resolve the situation in the country. Among them there is an item on the mediation of the Secretary General of this organization and his “special representative”.

Generally speaking, the very fact of the adoption of such a document and, moreover, the offer of mediation services has become a precedent since the establishment of ASEAN. Since one of the fundamental principles of this Association was non-interference in the internal affairs of the participating countries.

It is quite possible to believe that the ASEAN leadership decided to take such a step under the pressure of the neoconservative US administration (which came to power a year earlier) with its special attention to the problems of observing “human rights” and “democratic” procedures. And not so much at home as abroad. It can also be assumed that during contacts with the ASEAN leadership, Washington used an argument in the style of “otherwise we will resolve the situation in Myanmar ourselves and by our own methods.”

Therefore, the negative reaction of the current leadership of this country to these ASEAN initiatives was expected. The consequence of which was the actual freezing of membership (but not an exception) Myanmar in this Association.

This is the general background of a number of events observed in Myanmar in the period immediately preceding an unexpectedly sharp escalation of a more or less constant (but in the previous two and a half years mostly sluggish) internal turbulence in the country.

It occurred at a time when the situation in relations between both leading world powers, that is, the United States and China, is also escalating. For the second of which Myanmar is a direct neighbor for about two thousand kilometers. During the previous decades, constructive relations with this country (during the periods of both the aforementioned “duumvirate” and the current “military junta” in power) helped, once again, Beijing to solve a critical political and strategic problem for it.

Which, of course, does not correspond to the interests of his main geopolitical opponent. So far, this is the only thing that can be said about Washington’s possible participation in the recent dramatic events in Myanmar. But there is hardly any doubt that the destabilization of the situation with the prospect of a “democratic” government coming to power in this country would fit into the foreign policy ideology of the current American administration.

It should be noted, however, that the fact that some CMEC sites are controlled by the rebels today has not yet had any negative impact on the already functioning facilities of this project. And one can hardly expect anything similar in this regard from any regime that will eventually be established in Naypyidaw. For maintaining constructive relations with the great neighbor, the second world Power, fully and comprehensively corresponds to the interests of Myanmar itself.

Finally, we emphasize once again that we should not exaggerate the role of “external” factors in various dramatic events taking place in many countries of the Indo-Pacific region, that is, not only in Myanmar.

In the author’s opinion, although this factor is undoubtedly present in them, but it plays a secondary role in relation to various reasons (mainly of a “local” nature and often going deep into history) for the emergence of problems today both within a number of ITR countries and in relations between them.


Vladimir TEREKHOV, an expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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