Tension is still high in Myanmar following the military taking power on February 1 with the allegation of election fraud. While the protests that started after the military seized power are becoming more violent, the numbers of lives lost in the incidents are also still increasing.
As the US and Western countries decide to impose sanctions against the military leaders of Myanmar, region countries such as China, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan call for stability and dialogue between the parties. On the other hand, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations, grouping Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) will hold a special summit in Jakarta, Indonesia to address the situation in Myanmar, the member country. China and Russia support the idea of ASEAN summit to seek a peaceful solution to the Myanmar crisis.
We spoke about the latest developments in Myanmar with Yang Sheng, Chief Reporter at Global Times.
The role of the military
What are your comments in regard of the recent developments in Myanmar? The clashes between the security forces and protesters are intensifying. What is the background of the events?
The situation in Myanmar is getting worse. The conflict is a tragedy for the country and it impacts China’s interests and security, as well as that of the other neighboring countries. I think there is at least one common ground we share in the region: the conflict should be stopped as soon as possible.
The background is complicated. In short, it’s about how to realize the democratization in Myanmar respecting the fact that the military has absolute control over most regions and industries in the country. The military compromised in 2011 and let the National League for Democracy (NLD) join the election. In result, the NLD won the election in 2015 with a landslide victory, but unfortunately, the two sides have failed to reach a clear and mutually accepted solution to push forward the democratization peacefully.
I am not defending any party in this conflict, but it’s necessary for us to remember that the Myanmar’s military has made similar actions multiple times in the past throughout history (1988, 2007), but it could still remain and even increase its power in the country. So foreigners might be surprised by the behaviors of the military, but in fact, the military in the country has already got used to such an approach and has confidence in it. This also proves that, in a country with complicated historical, social and ethical problems, the military is playing a significant role to balance the situation in general, and it can’t be replaced easily. There is a long way for the democratization of the country.
‘China will make sure there is no foreign military intervention’
Do you think the US and other West countries deepen the crisis with sanctions and their statements? In your opinion, how can stability be achieved?
Some US and Western politicians and media always believe in interventionism, but the facts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, the Balkans, the Ukraine etc. etc. have already proven that interventions or sanctions can only add more tragedies, casualties and complicate the problem even more. The ones who benefit from this are foreign forces that use other countries’ territories to fight their proxy wars, while everyone in the region loses.
How to restore stability depends on the people of Myanmar and we are unqualified to make decisions for them. But based on what I know, as a responsible major power in the region, China will make sure there is no foreign military intervention to further interrupt the situation.
The ASEAN will play a key role because Myanmar is a member of the ASEAN, and if we respect the ASEAN’s principle of non-interference, we should let the ASEAN countries lead the mediation, rather than letting the US or other Western powers interfering into the country.
‘NGOs backed by the west are creating rumors against China’
Some of Chinese-funded factories were set on fire in Myanmar. Do you have any information on who set the factories on fire? Do you think the West is responsible for these events?
I have no evidence to prove who is responsible for those crimes against Chinese nationals in the country. But we do have information indicating that some NGOs backed by the West are creating rumors and disinformation against China in the social media. They are labeling China as “the sponsor” or “ the guardian of the military”, so that they can instigate the protesters to hate Chinese and damage the ties between Chinese and Myanmar’s people. This is truly nasty.
According to reliable sources, some of these NGOs have connection with Hong Kong and Taiwan separatists who caused a series of riots in China’s Hong Kong 2019.
At this moment, law-enforcement would be difficult in Myanmar, so this is truly a challenge for Chinese nationals there. I have learnt that by attacking the Chinese, some parties in the country might be able to force China to send in military in order to protect its nationals into the country, so that certain parties will benefit from China’s action. China has not sent any warship or military to evacuate its nationals or play peacekeepers. But if huge numbers of Chinese nationals get killed or harmed, China will definitely take action and for sure punish the real criminals behind such actions.
‘Is Myanmar going to be more isolated, or will all parties find a new solution’
China calls for stability and peace. Could these calls be successful? What is the position of China in Myanmar?
Some Western media and politicians have always tried to make the people believe that China is backing the military to kill protesters, but in fact, China is being totally neutral, and trying its best to mediate in the conflict. China declared that the priority is to stop the bloodshed and even urges all parties in the country to solve differences within the framework of the law and the constitution and promote the hard-won democratization. This is the real stance taken by China.
China’s stance on Myanmar unrests in 1988, 2007 and 2021 remain similar. The peace and stability will be realized sooner or later, just as always, but the key is who will win eventually? How many people will get killed? What would happen to China’s investments and projects in the country? Is Myanmar going to be more isolated in the international community, become a failed state, or will all parties find new solution and step on democratization again?
We have no clear answers for these questions yet.
‘It’s impossible for the country to stand with the US’
Is Myanmar one of the new theaters of competition between global powers?
It’s possible. The civil wars have happened multiple times in the country, and now I have learnt that some ethnic groups’ armed forces have attacked the Myanmar military. But in the past, those civil wars has not turned Myanmar into a failed state, the military government can still operate, and the conflict in the northern parts of the country can’t really affect the economic activities in other parts of the country.
Myanmar didn’t become another Ukraine or Syria, and we haven’t seen the US wanting to make a full intervention. The core reason is that China can effectively deter the US from doing so. The West will send in their agents and use their proxies in the country to keep meddling the situation and maintain their influence, but they need to remember, even Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD who detained by the military, also understand that no matter who become the leader of Myanmar, it’s impossible for the country to stand with the US and against China. The attempt to challenge China in the country or interrupting China-Myanmar ties is doomed to fail.
Yang Sheng is a chief reporter at the Global Times covering Chinese politics, diplomacy and military.