On the morning of 1st February 2021, the Tatmadaw deposed Myanmar’s democratically elected government and took control of the country. Prominent national leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi were detained on various charges, ranging from breaching Covid-19 regulations to election fraud to illegal communications. Myanmar’s citizens watched as their hard-earned democracy succumbed again to military rule.
Last week, Myanmar’s underground government raised an open, nationwide call, urging citizens to resist against and overthrow the military rule. Would it take the country towards a fresh wave of unrest, or does it mean that change is on the cards? And what do these developments mean for Myanmar’s neighbourhood? We speak to Thang Deih Tuang, an independent journalist covering human rights and ethnic conflicts in Myanmar.
Seven months after the coup in Myanmar, the underground National Unity Government (NUG) called for an uprising against the military rule. What is the National Unity Government? And what developments led them to issue such a call?
Thang: The National University Government (NUG) is an exiled Myanmar government formed by the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluattaw (CRPH), a group of elected lawmakers and members of parliament elected by the 2020 general election and ousted in the Feb.1 coup.
There are three major drivers to call this nationwide revolution.
Firstly, it reveals that beyond releasing a condemnation letter against the junta, the international community has failed support the NUG; an armed revolution is not by choice but the only option.
Secondly, it is not possible to come up with this decision without Aung San Suu Kyi-led government reaching a considerable degree of agreement with ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), whom the former fully opposed in the past five years.
Thirdly, this is the best time to declare an uprising as the revolutionists and citizens have peak levels of motivation and bandwidth to respond. This revolution is a zero-sum game.
China has been in the forefront in insisting that this is an internal issue of Myanmar and supported engagement with the Tatmadaw. What are China’s reasons for taking this stand? How will they react to this declaration of uprising by the NUG?
Thang: Unsurprisingly, China backs the Tatmadaw in the UN for their own interests. It hopes to start huge projects and perhaps resume mega dam projects, including the Myitsone dam project in Myanmar which has been suspended since 2011 for environmental reasons.
However, it is hard to predict China’s next move on Myanmar. As stated by one of the members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, National League for Democracy (NLD), the NLD also has a good relationship with China. The recent visit of Chinese special envoy Sun Guoxiang to Myanmar did not go well as the Junta denied his request to meet Aung San Suu Kyi and other political leaders. Upon returning to Beijing, Su stated that “China will work with the international community to restore democracy in Myanmar”. The CPC also invited the NLD to a virtual summit it held with political parties from South and Southeast Asia last week.
The US has urged ASEAN nations to play an active role in mitigating the crisis in Myanmar. What could be the reasons behind this approach? What kind of support can the NUG expect from the US and ASEAN?
Thang: The ASEAN took four months to appoint its special envoy to Myanmar to implement its five point consensus. A day after ASEAN’s special envoy and the military agreed on a four months’ ceasefire, the NUG declared “a defensive war” against the military regime. Why is the US supporting the ASEAN against the will of the Burmese people? As always, the US needs to build and maintain good relations with the ASEAN to combat Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific. In my opinion, US will take no actions beyond what the ASEAN does.
Burmese people expect the ASEAN to not engage with the Junta, to deliver humanitarian aid through cross border channels in collaboration with the EAOs, and to suspend the Junta from its membership. From the US, people expect more targeted sanctions on military businesses and personnel, no-fly zones over Myanmar and to push its allies to establish an arms embargo on Myanmar.
Myanmar too is dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. How has the coup affected efforts to contain the virus and protect common people?
Thang: The COVID19 pandemic has killed more than 16,500 people, but it is believed that this is an understatement. Medics under the Ministry of Health are at the forefront of the Noble Peace Prize- nominated Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). More than 70 percent of the medical staff is on strike, hence almost all public hospitals are closed and patients in Myanmar have no access to their medical facilities. The military has declared war on Myanmar’s medical fraternity by arresting medical doctors and humanitarian workers and seized medical equipment from free medical health care centres run by the medics who have joined the CDM. On top of that, the military is weaponizing the COVID-19 pandemic to terrorize its own civilians in order to retain power.
Currently, another country in the region – Afghanistan – is going through an acute political crisis. What are Myanmar’s views on the developments over there?
Thang: Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. The people of Myanmar have never recognised or accepted any armed group as a legitimate government. They also show their solidarity with the people of Afghanistan, especially the women and girls who are vulnerable to the Taliban’s rules.
They also invite Afghans to join their social media movement, the #MilkTeaAlliance and show solidarity and support to each other in defying and defeating oppressive regimes across the globe. The most widespread reaction among our citizens is – why did the Afghan government fail so quickly despite strong support from the US and its allies? Most people say, if Myanmar’s military government is backed and supported by the US and its allies, the revolution might succeed.
India is heavily focused on the Afghanistan crisis for the time being, has that taken away its attention from Myanmar? What are the NUG and civilians expecting from India?
Thang: India abstained from voting on Myanmar resolution in the USGA on 18th June 18. Our people are not satisfied with India’s and Modi’s foreign policy on Myanmar. People expected stronger support from India as India-China border tensions had escalated before the military coup here. On the bloodiest day in Myanmar i.e., March 27 this year, India attended the Myanmar Armed Forces Day military parade in Naypyidaw.
However, the people of Myanmar appreciate the Indian government’s contributions and support to Burmese refugees and migrants, such as Mizoram state providing access to schools and food for migrants’ children. The NUG and its militia expect India to play an active role in the UN assembly General Meeting regarding Myanmar’s affairs such as providing the NUG with COVID-19 vaccines across the border in collaboration with EAOs.
Gauri Noolkar-Oak is a transboundary water conflicts researcher and has studied river basins in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. She is also the Founder of Lokmaanya.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.