The military coup in Myanmar on 1 February has become a bloody takeover by the military who rule the country with an iron fist. Over 500 civilians have been killed by the military’s brutality, children are shot in the open and the violence does not seem to be abating. The question is, how can this happen in 2021? What is the role of the great powers and to what extent is China involved in the coup.
China has been an important partner for Myanmar, both politically and economically. China will retain this position. Through the democratization process that Myanmar has been through, China feels its position is threatened. At the election in November 2020, Aung San Suu Kyi and her party came out of the election strengthened, while the military’s party was almost erased. Feel free to read my blog about the military coup in Myanmar.
The strengthened position of Aung San Suu Kyi is a danger for China as China probably considers it. Through her democratization process, Aung San Suu Kyi has the support of Western countries that hope for a democratic and more open Myanmar. China, for its part, will maintain its position. In the West, many are disappointed with the democratic process and especially the violation of human rights that Aung San Suu Kyi seems to take rather lightly.
Myanmar is a country with several ethnic conflicts. In these conflicts, China has taken different sides and therefore has different sympathies among different groups within the population.
Whether China has been or is active in the coup itself is a bit unclear to me. But China plays an almost passive role, including by blocking a strong condemnation of the coup in the UN Security Council. In the end, China agreed to urge the parties to peace and asked for the release of political prisoners. In the Chinese media, the seizure of power is not referred to as a coup, but as a reorganization of the government. It is clear that China welcomes the military junta.
The role of the United Nations
As China has no interest in condemning the military coup, the UN is almost passively watching the development. Through its veto right in the Security Council, China has the opportunity to block any decision it does not fully support, or can accept. China can and will block all attempts by the UN for an economic reaction or reactions in other ways that they themselves do not benefit from.
This is the UN’s great weakness as I see it. In reality, the organization is without the opportunity to exert major international pressure in such conflicts where one or more of the major powers have major interests. In reality, the UN plays a passive role in Myanmar.
The Western countries come with condemnations and measures outside the UN system. Measures from the UN would have been more effective and sent a clearer signal to the military. While the world does little or nothing, more than 500 protesters have been shot and killed by the military that rules the country with an iron fist, well supported indirectly by a passive China.