China & India show no interest in reining the military in Myanmar
India and China together with Russia and Vietnam stopped the UN from condemning the military directly in its statement. But unless China and India intervene, the junta will not exercise restraint
Nobody quite knows how many people have been arrested, how many killed and how many are missing in Myanmar. But the sketchy reports coming out of Myanmar and the photographs and videos shared on social media by citizen journalists paint a grim enough picture.
Peaceful protests by thousands of people continue to take place in all parts of Myanmar. The military has turned increasingly brutal and have shot at least 72 people dead, among them children and women, the young and the old. They have been raiding neighbourhoods at night rounding up protesters and firing rubber bullets into homes.
Offices of five media houses reporting on the protests have been ransacked and their licenses cancelled. Civil servants taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement have been warned that they would be fired from service if they do not return to work. Troops are confiscating motorcycles to stop the movement of the youth. Internet is being shut down at night to prevent videos of military operations being shot. But information and images continue to trickle out.
At a funeral of deceased protesters at the Yayway cemetery in Yangnon, red fighting peacock flags associated with the students’ movement were placed outside homes along the street leading up to the cemetery, while those in attendance gave the three-finger salute, which has been borrowed from the pro-democracy movement in neighbouring Thailand and has become the symbol of Myanmar’s resistance to military rule. Many of the attendees were in tears – even those who had never met any of the deceased.
In his 11 years of working at Yayway, mortician Ko MaungOo said he had never witnessed such emotion among mourners. “I didn’t know these children. They are not my relatives, and I only saw them today, but they are our citizens. How brutal they [authorities] are to shoot children,” MaungOo said, wiping tears from his face.
In a haunting image posted on social media a Christian nun, identified as Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng, can be seen kneeling before troops, begging them to take her life if they wanted but to spare the protestors. She saw a man shot in the head fall dead in front of her. And even as she knelt and begged the soldiers to spare the protestors, the troops opened fire at protestors behind her. “I felt like the world was crashing,” she was quoted as saying. “I’m very sad it happened as I was begging them.”
Myanmar’s military revoked licences of five media outlets to clamp down on independent coverage of anticoup protests. Mizzima, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), KhitThit Media, Myanmar Now and 7Day News were ordered to close, according to an announcement by state broadcaster MRTV. It said the companies were “no longer allowed to broadcast, write or give information or use any media platform or media technology”. Since the coup, protesters have flooded social media with footage from protests, and used Facebook Live to document military crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators. The junta attempted to block social media early in February, but many have evaded the restrictions by using virtual private networks (VPNs).
Employees at the Lashio General Hospital in northern Shan State received their first COVID-19 jab on January 28 – three days before the military seized power on February 1. They were some of the 103,000 government health workers who received their first of two doses of Indiaexported Covishield. The second dose was due on February 25. But on that date, almost none of the staff showed up. LGH staff began joining the Civil Disobedience Movement on February 3; with most of the physicians and nurses taking part in civil disobedience, the facility has closed.
It is only in recent years that leaked reports have exposed how the military controls businesses directly in Myanmar. Two of the largest conglomerates in the country, namely Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), have become a key source of wealth for the military, with stakes in everything from banking and mining to tobacco and tourism. MEHL also operates the military’s pension fund.
Aung Pyae Sone, the son of coup leader Gen Min Aung Hliang, owns several companies, including a beach resort, and has a majority stake in national telecoms carrier Mytel. The leaked report said that, between 1990 and 2011, MEHL paid its shareholders 108bn kyats in dividends - worth $16.6bn, according to official exchange rates at the time.
An Israeli-Canadian lobbyist hired by Myanmar’s junta is being paid $2 million to “assist in explaining the real situation” of the army’s coup to the United States and other countries, documents filed with the U.S. Justice Department show, reported Reuters. Ari BenMenashe and his firm, Dickens & Madson Canada, will represent Myanmar’s military government in Washington, as well as lobby Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Russia, and international bodies like the United Nations, according to the consultancy agreement.
Meanwhile, Japanese beverage firm Kirin has ended two lucrative deals with MEHL that have helped it to dominate Myanmar’s beer market. Singaporean businessman Lim Kaling has also cut his investment in a tobacco firm linked to the conglomerate. Local protesters in Myanmar have been boycotting companies with ties to the new government.
Seventy-two South Korean Ambassadors and lawmakers have called on the UN Secretary-General to take immediate action against Burma’s military junta and protests were held outside the embassy of Myanmar in several countries. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, has called for the release of protesters. Guterres also called the occupation of a number of public hospitals in Myanmar by security forces “completely unacceptable”.
But without intervention of two of its neighbours, China and India, the junta cannot be reined in. The two big Asian powers, engaged in a war of attrition of their own, have shown little or no interest in doing so. Barring voicing their concern, both China and India have kept their distance and described the coup as Myanmar’s internal affair. India is also said to be considering Myanmar’s request to send back policemen who deserted, refusing to fire on unarmed citizens and crossed over to India for refuge.
Myanmar, say observers, is heading towards a genocide, a rebellion by sections of the military or a violent civil war.
Views expressed are personal