FOur weeks after he deposed the democratically elected government of Myanmar, General Min Aung Hlaing must have that sinking feeling. Your carefully orchestrated retirement plan (He was due to withdraw in July this year, before leading the coup on February 1) has faced continuous street protests and international condemnation, including from members of the normally serious Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The general has also exaggerated the army’s proven strategy of deploying brutal firepower. The protesters do not back down, and the time has come for the international community to defend the general’s deception and insist on the restoration of the legitimate claim to power of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
Achieving this will require an unusual degree of cooperation and global consensus, both in short supply at this time. Yet this may turn out to be the kind of global leadership that Presidents Biden and Xi wish to exercise, with the support of regional players Japan, India, Singapore and Indonesia.
During previous periods of Myanmar’s military rule, the country’s neighbors looked the other way (Asean, which maintained its stated policy of non-interference until some members decided to break ranks after the February 1 coup) or tacitly supported the generals (China in particular) as they plundered a once-rich country of mineral resources and delayed economic and political progress for decades. The army’s architecture of terror was based on the blatant belief that they could continue their repression because the street could easily be silenced, and the impact of outrage and sanctions from the international community fell heavily on ordinary people. By turning back the clock during successive decades of repression, the generals succeeded in making Myanmar one of the poorest countries in Asia.
Min Aung Hlaing’s calculation may have been somewhat similar when he took office in early February, but he and his fellow generals have made a huge miscalculation. They underestimated the positive impact that a decade of democracy and economic liberalization has had on the country’s 54 million citizens. Democracy, flawed and clouded as it may be in Myanmar, has the notion of checks and balances, and the NLD’s historic electoral victory last year was a rude wake-up call for Min Aung Hlaing and her cohort, fearful that their power and privileges will weaken. just cut back for a period of time.
This historical context is helpful because restoring democracy in Myanmar is very different from previous (and futile) international efforts to do the same elsewhere. For starters, the international sanctions led by the Biden administration, however specific they may be, simply will not work in the context of Myanmar. Reduce the international travel and the banking access of a small group of generals will further embolden them to avoid the world and lead the country back to the dark times of the sixties and seventies. There is another possible approach, which will require the United States to work closely with China and prominent ASEAN members. The fact that the protagonists of the Asean, like Indonesia and SingaporeThey have avoided contact with the new regime and are openly calling for dialogue and the restoration of civil government should be a signal to Min Aung Hlaing that the game is over. Beijing could play an enormously constructive role in recognizing that its long-term strategic interests are aligned with having a stable Myanmar on its borders.
How would such an international alliance work in practice? One possible model is the original six-party talks to negotiate and resolve North Korea’s nuclear issue. Myanmar does not possess nuclear weapons and is not a geopolitical threat to its neighbors, as the murderous Kim Jong-un regime surely is. This fact alone should reduce the potential for regional rivalries and maneuvers, which have plagued the North Korean process from the beginning. As strategic competitors, the United States and China should view Myanmar as an early test of their ability to collaborate in areas of common global interest, while competing fiercely on issues such as trade and security. The participation of other countries in the process would send a powerful signal of determination on the part of the international community.
Min Aung Hlaing and his henchmen must face the consequences of the coup and the killings of peaceful protesters, a legal process that must be led by the democratic government. At the same time, any international intervention must include an arrangement for the return of approximately 1 million Rohingya refugees and a fair process to resolve long-standing disputes with other ethnic minorities in the country, many of which have been taken to the jungle in the last years. Few decades.
What about Aung San Suu Kyi herself? It is clear that she enjoys wide public support and is viewed by many in Myanmar as the guardian of democracy and newly discovered economic freedoms. During her last stint as a guest of the army, Daw Suu, as she is known, became an icon of democracy through her stubborn resistance and refusal to submit to the will of the generals. Democracy has exposed a different side of the leader, who is revered at home and vilified in many parts of the world. She has proven to be a calculating policy and has redoubled her strategy to lessen the stifling influence of the generals in all aspects of Myanmar society. This is a worthy cause for which he received a lot of initial international support, until he sacrificed Rohingya rights to prove his credentials as a Bamar nationalist. Should the international community come to the rescue of Myanmar, it will be interesting to see which Daw Suu will appear: the nationalist since 2011 or the defender of freedoms from an earlier phase.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism