This coup and subsequent uprising are not the first. The military regime first came into power in 1962 under General Ne Win. There have been multiple changes in military leadership over the decades and different uprisings opposing various leaders and policies. Every uprising brings hope of change, freedom and progress as well as vicious crackdowns. The 8-8-88 Uprising brought about the 1990 General Election, the results of which were annulled, followed by new military leadership. The Saffron Revolution (2007) brought about the 2008 Constitution, and then came the experiment with a semi-civilian, semi-democratic government for two election terms from 2010 to 2020, which leads us to the present day.
Myanmar had stayed impartial throughout the Cold War despite its adoption of Socialism, under Ne Win, thanks to his policies of isolationism and rejection of Cold War politics, among other things. However, as leadership changed in the Tatmadaw, Myanmar opened its borders to trade with China and started receiving substantial military aid. This was right after the violent suppression of the 88 Uprising, which also coincided with the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests. The two neighbours found camaraderie in the quelling of political dissent and in being shunned by the international community as a consequence. This camaraderie has remained intact over the past 33 years: China remains the biggest trading partner and economic investor in Myanmar. For the Chinese government, the Myanmar military junta is a political and economic entity that unequivocally supports them, and one they can support and trade with conveniently. With similar pro-democracy movements at their doorstep, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, Chinese leadership maintains support for the Myanmar military and its leaders. On Feb 3, China vetoed the UN condemnation of the Myanmar coup at the Security Council. Again on Mar 9, the UN Security Council failed to release a statement condemning the coup, due to opposition from China, Russia, Vietnam and India. So far, the UN has only released statements regarding use of deadly force from the Tatmadaw but no official condemnation of the coup. After some China-financed factories burned down in the crackdown of a protest in an industrial zone outside Yangon on Mar 14, the Chinese Embassy called for the persecution of those responsible without mention of the death of 18 unarmed protestors at the scene.
The situation is similar for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The military junta is all the ASEAN member nations have ever known. Myanmar military rule actually predates the founding of ASEAN in 1967, and Myanmar did not become a member till 1997 under Than Shwe, the country’s third military leader. Over the second half of the 20th Century, Myanmar has become a source of cheap labour due to ethnic minorities fleeing persecution by the Tatmadaw into neighbouring countries. ASEAN has a non-interference policy for internal affairs of member nations, has always worked with different military leaders after coups happen in the region, and are willing to resume such a relationship with Myanmar. In mid-February, Indonesia proposed a plan to hold Myanmar military leaders to their pledge of holding a new general election within one year of the coup – which the Myanmar citizens contested – and Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi proceeded to meet with military-appointed Myanmar foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin on Feb 24 in Bangkok, Thailand. On the very same day, Malaysia deported 1.086 Myanmar immigrants on three Myanmar Navy ships, despite a court order from the Kuala Lumpur High Court and pleas from human rights organizations to halt the deportation. The focus of ASEAN has always been maintaining diplomatic relations among its member nations – since the region has experienced instability over the past several centuries due to internal conflicts and Western Colonialism. And ASEAN, by constitution, is an economic union and not necessarily a champion for human rights.
In the West, the UN is very limited in its powers and capabilities, despite its well-meaning principles, due to veto powers from member nations like China and Russia. (Myanmar has military ties with Russia and North Korea as well.) The Myanmar people have been asking for UN Peacekeeping Troops to be deployed since crackdowns against the protests started, as they have seen in the past how these tend to escalate. The UN remains unable to reach a consensus in condemning the coup thus far. As for the US, the situation in Myanmar seems to present the Biden Administration an opportunity to flex its foreign policy prowess and get on the all-American pro-democracy soapbox. However, the US is in the midst of dealing with the disastrous legacy of the Trump Administration: Trump had actively antagonized China since before taking office; there had been threats of war with Iran and North Korea, as recently as 2020; the Coronavirus Pandemic had been severely exacerbated due to longstanding issues in public health and healthcare; the second Trump impeachment just wrapped; and the Capitol itself had been under seige in early January. In addition, the Biden Administration has already failed and/or faced delays in fulfilling campaign promises of $2,000 stimulus checks, no deportation of immigrants within 100 days of taking office, and the $15 minimum wage. Disapproval and condemnation from Washington of the Tatmadaw and their coup could easily be read as a challenge to and undermining of a sovereign foreign power, albeit an illegitimate one. And sending any US troops into Myanmar would add one more to the long list of wars the US has engaged in and could result in China facing a situation akin to the Cuban Missile Crisis. This would be a threat to world peace at large.
The EU seems to be pretty much in agreement with the US in its approach to the situation in Myanmar. Both entities have released statements condemning the coup and its use of violence against peaceful protestors, and have implemented sanctions targeting military leadership and affiliated entities.
In essence, the East has made up its mind that they are willing to work with the Myanmar military junta again, and they have been vocal about it, even if not explicitly so. The West, however, has yet to decide what their relationship with Myanmar is, especially since China has overwhelming influence not just over Myanmar but also in international politics. To navigate this precarious situation, the CRPH appointed Dr Sasa, an ethnic Chin medical doctor turned politician and philanthropist, as the special envoy to the UN. He has been meeting with local ethnic leaders making sure the country is united under a pro-democracy banner, and meeting with international leaders making a case that a democratic Myanmar will be an asset and ally to the international community – so that the Myanmar people can ask for more drastic intervention measures.