Military Commander Min Aung Hlaing is already facing sanctions from the US and UK against anti-Rohingya Muslims. By taking power on Monday, Myanmar generals gave U.S. President Joe Biden the first test of his efforts to combat the appeal of China’s dictatorial model in Asia.
Military Commander Min Aung Hlaing, who was due to face compulsory retirement this year, is already facing sanctions from the U.S. And in the UK due to the brutal attacks on Rohingya Muslims which led to racial slurs. Beijing paid tribute to him: In a meeting last month with the 64-year-old general, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the two countries “brothers” while praising the military for “rejuvenating the country”.
“While the overthrow of the empire will no doubt come at a cost, the military sees itself as costly,” said Sebastian Strangio, author of “In the Dragon’s Shadow: Southeast Asia in the Chinese Century.” “Recent developments in Southeast Asia have shown that with China’s growing power, and the decline of democracy in the West, the U.S. and other Western countries no longer have the moral authority or economic and political means to set a common agenda in the region.”
A key part of the US anti-Chinese strategy has been efforts to mobilize Asia’s democracy to restore a “free and open” region opposed to Beijing’s one-party state. However democratic advocates in places like Malaysia and Thailand have lost land without results under President Donald Trump, who is determined to reverse the results of the U.S. election. The perpetrator of a dangerous mob attacked the Capitol.
Although the ouster of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi as a symbol of democracy has taken over because of his defense of the Rohingya military action, he still has key allies in the US Congress. Suu Kyi, who was arrested along with other key leaders, issued a statement urging 55 million people in the country to oppose the return of “military dictatorship.”
Biden now faces the challenge of formulating a response that will punish Myanmar’s generals without harming many people, who suffered under sanctions imposed in the 1990s before the country went to democracy a decade ago. The White House has already threatened to take action if the military does not deviate from the process, and could be under intense pressure to do so: Democratic Alliance Provincial Senator Bob Menendez, the future chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called for “severe economic sanctions” on military leaders.
China’s response has been silenced. Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called Myanmar a “friendly neighbor” and urged all parties to “handle the dispute fairly.” At the end of last year, China became the second largest investor in Myanmar after Singapore with its $ 21.5 million foreign exchange earnings approved. Beijing also accounts for about a third of all trade in Myanmar – about ten times higher than in the U.S.
However, China will be careful not to do anything that could separate Suu Kyi’s supporters. During a visit last month, Foreign Minister Wang met with Suu Kyi and discussed how they could work together on a number of investment initiatives that link the country to the Indian Ocean continent.
“For the Chinese, Burmese politics is very flexible and unpredictable,” said Yun Sun, China’s program director at Stimson Center. “China was burned before.”
Other Asian nations will also round up their bets. While the UK, Australia and the European Union joined the US in condemning Myanmar, the regional response to the region was severely restricted. Many Asian countries have continued to do business with Myanmar under junta rule, and in recent years Japan and other nations have invested in the country as one of Thailand’s leading manufacturing centers.
Myanmar’s military has retained its grip on power even after the democratic transition more than a decade ago. On Monday it said the takeover was in line with the constitution, which allows generals to take over in critical emergencies.
But the expectations of democracy have grown among its relatively young people. Since 2011, Myanmar has opened up industries such as power testing, insurance and banking for international participation, while liberating the telecommunications industry to allow millions of people to access mobile phones and the internet.
Military statements have shown that they are aware of widespread changes in society, emphasizing that these measures are not anti-democratic. He vowed to hold “free and fair” elections after the end of the crisis in a year.
Although it is not yet clear how much resistance the troops will face, on Monday some residents of the country’s largest city saw the move as a clear step back. Aung Kyaw Oo, a teacher at a private school in Yangon, said poor people could suffer greatly if the U.S. and others imposed sanctions on Myanmar.