How Myanmar’s Political Mess Might End

Under U Than Shwe’s military regime, China did not encourage Myanmar’s democratic transition while Western countries imposed sanctions against Myanmar. It stood with military dictators and received many projects and substantial natural resources from Myanmar. So, the majority of Myanmar do not like and/or are actively against Chinese projects.  

By Min Htee 23 Mar 2021


By Min Htee 

The people’s protest against the Tatmadaw that seized power based on the dispute between the Tatmadaw and the government on the results of the 2020 general election has reached more than 50 days. The death toll of the protestors due to the violent crackdown of the Myanmar military junta and police force is still increasing day by day. 

The UN has held multiple meetings regarding Myanmar’s post-coup affairs, but a clearly defined approach has as yet been unavailable when it comes to helping resolve the significant conflict between the people standing up against the junta and the junta aka State Administration Council (SAC), which is the military’s preferred term. The UN cannot make a decision to condemn the Myanmar military council because China, Russia, Vietnam and India objected to it. However, China said in a statement urging the UN to tackle Myanmar’s issues by diplomatic means.

China, which has the most investment in Myanmar, signed 33 new projects with the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi before the election, and the Chinese ambassador visited Myanmar more than a month before the military’s coup and said he welcomed the victory of the NLD in the 2020 general election. 

China does not seem like the military’s recent coup for the security of its projects in Myanmar because mass protest prevails throughout Myanmar, where the majority of the investments are from China. 

Myanmar military force seems to stop relations with China because members of the Northern Alliance whose forces are growing gradually are based in the border area with China. The lobbyist hired by the Myanmar military last week said Myanmar military leaders wanted to promote relations with the US by avoiding China. 

Thus, the Myanmar military emphasised closer relations with Russia under the NLD government, and the good neighbouring country India had a good relationship with the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi government rather than the military. 

China will not like the unrest in a country where its investment is significant. It was powerful in Myanmar under the successive military regimes. So, since it has the BRI [Belt and Road Initiative] project that is vitally important for China’s politics, it is offering direct pressure to solve the current problem. Beijing has also shown signs of concern for its gas and oil pipeline projects connected from Kyaukphyu Township in Arakan State, passing through central parts of Myanmar and finally to Kunming in Yunnan Province, China. 

If we look at the topic that Mr. Chen Hai mainly discussed at a meeting on February 23, he expressed to keep upholding “pauk phaw” friendship though Myanmar has had a big change. He also said China was concerned for the security of the BRI projects, and that the gas and oil pipeline projects were very important for China. It shows China does not want to affect its economics amid Myanmar’s current political mess. 

Regarding the fire at Chinese garment factories in Shwepyithar Township, Yangon Region, last week, hundreds of thousands of workers had to return home. Meanwhile, the people began to target things that are related with China because of close relations between China and the military. 

Under U Than Shwe’s military regime, China did not encourage Myanmar’s democratic transition while Western countries imposed sanctions against Myanmar. It stood with military dictators and received many projects and substantial natural resources from Myanmar. So, the majority of Myanmar do not like and/or are actively against Chinese projects.  

China has found that it can uphold its power on Myanmar military as well as can build good relations with ethnic armed groups who are members of the Northern Alliance. By looking at the situation that China negotiated to invite the Northern Alliance to the third Panglong Conference held in 2019, China is powerful in Myanmar and it holds a policy to harmonise with all parties. 

That’s why China is supposed to keep standing for the Myanmar military though it does not like the military’s seizure of power. China will protect its interest as much as it can when the Western crowd or UN is trying to resolve Myanmar’s current political crisis. However, China does not say it recognises the military’s coup, though it was nearly two months ago that it occured. 

At the moment, the Myanmar military council is conducting fatal crackdowns on protestors, resulting in more than 250 deaths and more than 2,600 people detained. The coup military council has currently formed state administration councils. They are operating nominally at some states but it remains difficult to operate the coup military council’s administration mechanism at most other states and regions. The council is found facing difficulties because civil servants are also joining the Civil Disobedience Movement. 

Military and police forces shot live rounds at protestors and used force to arrest them, prompting more dissatisfaction among the people and resulting in some big cities in Myanmar including Yangon looking like battlefields day by day. It means the people who are protesting will not chicken out. Meanwhile, some Western countries and the UN apparatus are increasing their sanctions. 

Migrant workers in Yangon have begun leaving Yangon in significant numbers as the coup government marks its two-month anniversary on April 1. Yangon is the main commercial hub of Myanmar. If the military council keeps going with this situation, it will face difficulty to solve the crisis of the people at the grassroots level, who were already facing livelihood difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If it cannot be successful in resolving the crisis of these people, who are the majority of Myanmar, it will face a worse situation than now. 

The current poverty of the people began from the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, and it is crucial to solve their crisis. Thus, the council needs to seek with all effort to be able to solve the current mass protests as quickly as possible. How it can start to solve the issue is the solution for the country. 

The coup military council has currently given priority to the activity to be successful in its administration while the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) is talking with ethnic armed organisations and is focused on creating a federal democracy union that ethnic nationals want to achieve and abolition of the 2008 Constitution. It is interesting if it can lead to the change of the country. 

While the CRPH shows it is seeking to create a Federal Army, the coup military council remains missing a path to negotiate to solve the crisis. Creating a Federal Union, that ethnic nationals are demanding and the main problem of the country, is only one approach to end the armed struggle and to build solidarity throughout Myanmar. 

If the CRPH cannot work with the ethnic nationals over abolishing the 2008 Constitution, its claim to eliminate the dictatorship will not work. The 2008 Constitution itself protects the dictators and makes the military lead in politics.  

Among 91 registered political parties, 53 of them are in alliance with the military, according to a meeting held by the new Union Election Commission formed by the military council soon after the coup. 

The Arakan National Party (ANP), People’s Pioneer Party (PPP) and Mon Unity Party (MUP) are found to absolutely support the coup military council. Their main policy is the sustainability of the power of the military in politics, but not creating a federal union and upholding democracy, which is the main problem of the country.  

Arakan State has seen less unrest so far regarding the military coup. Additionally, the fighting between the Tatmadaw and Arakan Army (AA) that had continuously intensified since late 2018 came to a halt ahead of the November 2020 general election. Still, there was no official agreement known of between the formerly warring sides.  

I do not see the AA as being silent over the military coup, as some people have recently criticized. The leader of the AA is politically ambitious and systematically manages a powerful armed group. So, the movement of the AA could decide the situation of Arakan State. 

Thus, I conclude that the country’s current crisis could shatter the country rather than bringing about the federal union that is often discussed. The CRPH ought to approach the situation regarding overthrowing the military dictatorship by forming an interim government that includes all ethnic armed organisations to handle the change of the country. 

The country’s future can be built by working together to topple the military dictator. If the CRPH keeps going to create change in the country with only the elected government, the military dictator will consolidate its position in the country.