Dr. N C Bhowmik
Days after the military coup in Myanmar, US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have resolved to uphold the rule of law along with the democratic process in Myanmar. White House issued a press statement in which it said, “The President (Biden) underscored his desire to defend democratic institutions and norms around the world and noted that a shared commitment to democratic values is the foundation for the US-India relationship. They further resolved that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld in Myanmar.”
Both the leaders reiterated the importance of working with like-minded countries to ensure a rules-based international order and a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. United States, India, Japan, and Australia are members of the Quad, an informal group that works as a potential force against anti-democratic forces. India-US ties are held together by a shared commitment to democratic values.Military rulers echoed previous military insistence that the power grab was in line with the constitution but declared that this time things would be “different” from the army’s previous 49-year reign, which ended in 2011.
“After the tasks of the emergency period are completed, free and fair multi-party general elections will be held according to the constitution,” he said. Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh during a 2017 crisis will continue to be repatriated to Rakhine state, he added. But it is difficult to resolve the Rohingya issue unless there is a united action against Myanmar.Myanmar’s shadow government urged Southeast Asian leaders to give it a seat at the table during crisis talks, and not to recognize the military regime that seized power in a February coup. Massive protests are taking place across the country against the military coup in Myanmar.
The army is also trying to quell the protests. Under these circumstances, on March 27, the army celebrated their Armed Forces Day Representatives from 6 countries including Russia, China, and India attended the ceremony, Russia’s presence at the Armed Forces Day, celebrations indicates Russia’s strong presence in the regional geopolitics.The position of India, Myanmar’s big neighbor and a regional ally of the West is significant. On the other hand, the position of China is also strong. As the United States and its allies want to counter China’s influence, China and Russia co-operate with each other against the Western world.
Russia’s objective is to sell arms to Myanmar. All in all, Russia will start exerting its power. In this region like the Middle East in the coming days. Despite being a democratic country, India was present at the Myanmar Armed Forces Day celebrations for its interest. India has a lot of investment in various projects in Myanmar. The country also wants to maintain good relations with Myanmar’s military to keep its eastern border safe and secure. However, despite China’s presence at Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day celebrations, there have been some tensions over China’s relations with the country’s military.
China has strategic investments in Myanmar. The China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, a project initiated by Beijing to establish road links from China to the Bay of Bengal, will fall into uncertainty, albeit to some extent, during the current junta government. Even then, the two sides want to maintain a kind of relationship with each other, which is reflected in the ceremony.
The survival of Myanmar’s junta depends largely on China’s will. Again, any kind of chaos on the borders of its own country is not pleasant for China. For this reason, the Chinese government and the military junta government of Myanmar want to maintain good relations with each other keeping in mind the issues of mutual interest.
That’s why on Beijing Armed Forces Day, the junta sent delegates to show support for General Min Aung Hlaing.Attempts by ASEAN countries to take a united effort on the situation in Myanmar have not been successful. Such divisions in the regional organization have changed the way the United States reckons with Myanmar. The Biden administration is trying to unite the ASEAN countries against China.
The United States is trying to build a strong anti-China affiance with India, Japan, and South Korea in this part of Asia for peace, stability, and democracy. In mid-March, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Japan and South Korea, Secretary of Defense visited India also. The UN Security Council is also unable to do anything about Myanmar because Russia and China will not allow the Security Council to take any punitive action against Myanmar.
On the other hand, no country is currently interested in recognizing Myanmar’s expatriate or exiled government because it will make Myanmar closer to China. The Myanmar crisis has highlighted the scopes and limitations of the democratic countries in Asian Geo-politics. Meanwhile, Adani Group, an India-based multinational corporation, has been financing projects, according to an ABC News report.
The Australian Center for International Justice and Justice for Myanmar, two human rights groups, said in the report, that the Adani group was cooperating with Myanmar’s military government to build a container port in Yangon.The Adani group has said it is not involved with Myanmar’s military leadership. They have provided a complimentary US 30 million to the Myanmar Economic Corporation for land leasing alone.
It is mentionable that President Obama lifted long-standing sanctions as Myanmar’s democratic transition gathered momentum. The opening up of the country appeared a success story for American engagement in the world. The persecution and mass exodus of the Rohingya led to a new round of targeted sanctions against the top brass of Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw.
Myanmar will almost invariably work to maintain strategic balance, even if the junta remains and the country’s elite are isolated from the West. Instead of running to China, the regime might maintain cooperation with the Indian military, with those Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) governments as well as with the East Asian countries. Japan and Korea invested heavily in the country.
The Chinese Government and Communist Party is against a democratic movement as it tries to stomp out others across the region. Socio-political systems in most of the countries of the world are in weak condition. Militaries are controlling administration not only in Myanmar but also in Pakistan, Thailand, Egypt, and other countries.
The U.S. and other democratic governments should facilitate and protect dialogue between different groups opposed to the military’s rule, particularly those representing the Rohingya, Kachin, Shan, Karen, and other targeted minorities. The United States can use leverage generated by domestic boycotts to push ASEAN, India, Japan, and South Korea into a stronger and sustained refusal to recognize the junta.
It is evident from the above discussion that the democratic process in Myanmar is very difficult though political forces and people are sacrificing for a democratic system. It may be mentionable that elected governments are functioning and democratic process is going on in most of the South Asian countries because long term political processes are going on, the biggest democratic country India is cooperating and the USA, Europe, Japan are helping. Bangladesh is the gateway to South-East Asia. India and Japan are strongly involved in the democratic and development process of Bangladesh. Democratic countries as well as democratic forces should work together in South and South-East Asia for peace, democracy, and development.
The writer is an academic, former ambassador, leader-student action committee 71 and freedom fighter.