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Impact of developments in Myanmar on the region and beyond

SAM SPECIAL-06-02-2021
Armoured military vehicles on the streets of Mandalay after the military coup. Photo: Reuters

In the evening of February 1, the Myanmar's military announced a large-scale reshuffle of the government. Eleven ministers including Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Border Affairs were replaced. Twenty-four state ministers including State Minister in charge of the Senior Minister`s Office and State Minister of Commerce were removed from their posts after the military staged a coup. 

On February 2, the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy (NLD) pointed out that the military's takeover of power has violated the constitution and ignored the rights of the people, seriously affecting the country's transformation, fighting the pandemic and peaceful development. The NLD also asked the military to release the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior politicians, recognize the outcome of the general election in 2020 and according to the constitution, resume parliamentary meetings to maintain national stability and democratic development. 

Myanmar's military insists that its actions are constitutional, because the constitution allows it to take over power in a state of emergency. 

On February 2, some of the provincial Chief ministers detained by the Myanmar's military have returned home. According to informed sources, Aung San Suu Kyi is "under house arrest" at her home in Naypyidaw. She is in good condition at present, said Miao Niu, a spokesman for Myanmar's NLD. 

Myanmar is not the only country that has experienced the military rule in Southeast Asia. Thailand and Indonesia had similar periods, but finally elected governments emerged that could compete with the military. Myanmar's military is still playing an important role in the political landscape.

This is mainly related to the history of Myanmar's military. The Myanmar Army was born in the fight for national independence. The military made Myanmar independent and enjoyed high prestige in the minds of the people.

Since Myanmar's independence, its internal ethnic problems have not been resolved, especially in northern Myanmar where there are more than 10 ethnic armed groups. Central government troops and the ethnic minority armed groups have been engaged in a seesaw war, which also provides a legitimate way for the Myanmar's military to intervene in politics. 

Myanmar is in the ASEAN. It’s unstable internal affairs will obviously have a negative impact on ASEAN’s integration. However, there is no need to worry too much about this. This year, Myanmar is not the rotating chair of ASEAN. Changes in Myanmar's domestic political situation may cause some public concern, but in the long run, the impact on ASEAN integration will not be particularly great.

Now, Myanmar's military has said that a general election will be held one year after the State of Emergency, when power will be handed over to the elected party. It also sends a signal that Myanmar's military does not wish to be in power for a long time.

The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called on Myanmar's leaders to engage in meaningful dialogue and avoid violence. Some western countries have reacted strongly. American President Joe Biden has issued a statement condemning the Myanmar's military action and threatened to impose new sanctions on Myanmar. 

Unlike western countries, ASEAN countries are more cautious. Singapore's foreign ministry said it is closely following the developments in Myanmar and hopes that the current situation will return to normal. The Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand emphasized that this is Myanmar's internal affairs. The Philippines also said it would not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. ASEAN countries are relatively moderate and they also know that Myanmar's domestic political situation is very complex.

China is Myanmar's friendly neighbor. China hopes all parties in Myanmar can properly handle their differences and maintain political and social stability within the constitutional and legal framework. China is maintaining communication with all parties in the Security Council. Any action by the international community should contribute to Myanmar's political and social stability, peace and reconciliation, so as to avoid intensifying contradictions and further complicating the situation.


(Cheng Xizhong, visiting professor at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, senior fellow of the Charhar Institute, former Defense Attache in South Asian countries)