TOKYO – About eight months since the civilian government was ousted from power in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian country has been on the brink of full-scale civil war as the military clamps down on peaceful protests and the parallel government of national unity – formed in exile by democratically elected leaders – calls for an open revolt.
The death toll from military airstrikes and targeted fires is now increasing, even among non-combatants. The international community, and in particular Japan, must redouble its efforts to prevent the crisis from worsening further.
“Armed clashes now occur regularly in many parts of the heart where conflicts have not been seen for generations,” United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said at the meeting. a session of the Human Rights Council on September 23.
Bachelet warned that the country faced the possibility of an “escalation of civil war”.
“In border areas that have faced conflict for many years, including Kachin, Shan, Kayin and Kayah states, some armed ethnic organizations have assisted people’s advocacy groups and in some cases led joint military operations with them, ”she said. said, referring to a group of loosely aligned militias fighting the army.
The Burmese army in particular has been accused of causing a humanitarian and economic crisis, including by piling up medical supplies and cutting off internet access. More than 1,100 people have been killed since the military took control of the Myanmar government on February 1, according to the Myanmar Political Prisoners Assistance Association.
Another 200,000 have reportedly fled their homes as a result of armed clashes and targeted fires. The country is also said to be suffering from a wave of coronavirus infections.
Even in Yangon, which has remained relatively unscathed so far, there have been injuries from at least 39 explosions that rocked the country’s largest city between September 1 and September 22, according to Myanmar’s Eleven Media Group.
In response to the situation, Bachelet called on the Human Rights Council to “support a political process that engages all parties to this crisis, including the government of national unity, civil society and representatives of ethnic communities. minority, especially women ”.
A peace plan drawn up by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, “should be accompanied urgently by other influential member states,” she added, urging the international community to support efforts aimed at fostering a comprehensive framework for dealing with the crisis.
But global efforts have made little difference so far. A glaring example is the canceled speech at the United Nations General Assembly by Myanmar Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun. He was scheduled to speak on the last day of the high-level event.
Kyaw Moe Tun was appointed under Myanmar’s democratically elected government and has openly criticized the military and its takeover. Although he was fired by the military government, he was reportedly given more time in his post in exchange for his silence under a deal brokered by the United States and China.
At first glance, the deal appears to be a compromise between the military government and pro-democracy forces. But the UN has also unmistakably denied the world the chance to hear what is really happening on the ground in Myanmar.
A June 18 resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, which called on all member states “to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar”, also highlighted the weaknesses and dysfunctions within the organization.
Although the language of the resolution was toned down in the final version, China, Russia, Thailand and Cambodia abstained in the vote. The international community has not been able to present a united front, even in the form of a non-binding resolution.
Russia, a key supporter of the military, has not reduced its arms exports since the change of power. Moscow continued to deliver six Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets to Myanmar under a contract signed in 2018. It will also supply surface-to-air missiles, surveillance drones and radar systems to Myanmar as part of the contract. ‘an agreement signed at the beginning of the year which should move forward.
Meanwhile, the ASEAN initiative that Bachelet had high hopes for fell short of expectations. In April, the 10-member bloc held a summit in Jakarta and invited the country’s top military leader, General Min Aung Hlaing.
There, ASEAN leaders agreed to a five-point consensus on Myanmar, including an immediate end to the violence, a constructive dialogue between the military and civilians and the appointment of a special envoy from the ‘ASEAN.
More than five months later, none of the five points have been achieved. But the only thing that came out of the Jakarta meeting was that Min Aung Hlaing was welcomed as the leader of Myanmar.
Bachelet’s appeal to other members of the Human Rights Council to help with the ASEAN initiative reflects a weak spot in the Southeast Asian economic community.
“The international community must redouble its efforts to restore democracy and prevent a wider conflict before it is too late,” Bachelet said at the end of her report.
It is tempting to be pessimistic about whether countries like China or Russia will support this call. But standing idly by would only make matters worse.
The position of those “influential member states” that Bachelet urged to act will be called into question. Among the 47 member countries of the Human Rights Council, those with the strongest influence on Myanmar outside of ASEAN are China and India – which share borders with Myanmar – the former leader British colonial, and Japan, which has been the biggest aid provider for many years.
In 2012, immediately after Myanmar began to take steps towards democracy, Japan essentially gave up about 300 billion yen ($ 2.7 billion) in past due debt. Japan invited Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to the country in 2019 – when Aung San Suu Kyi was the de facto leader – and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi met with the general during a trip to Myanmar in August 2020 Japan is unique among developed countries. democratic nations with regard to its relations with the Myanmar military.
Given this history, how it deals with Myanmar should be a major issue for Japanese diplomacy. And yet, it was not a topic of debate when the ruling party held its leadership election last week. The opposition parties and the Foreign Ministry have not yet spoken. Now is the time for Japan to act on Myanmar by building on the diverse and strategic perspectives that guide its diplomacy with China, ASEAN and India.
For example, it might be possible for Japan to work with China to put pressure on the Burmese military. Beijing has cited the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of another nation as a reason for not condemning the military at the UN and other international forums, but it has been flexible about this principle. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said “China opposes coup attempts to seize power” following a military takeover in Guinea on September 5.
Tokyo should urge Beijing to persuade or pressure the Burmese military to change its ways. It should also be in Beijing’s best interest, as Chinese companies in Myanmar have come under attack amid growing anti-Chinese sentiment.