Please be advised:
- The Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) said it would hold elections at the end of the one-year state of emergency, which was imposed on February 1 after it seized power in a coup during the pre-dawn hours (local time) on the same day.
- In a statement on behalf of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy (NLD) called on the public not to accept the February 1 coup and protest against the military’s actions.
- Internet and TV channels continue to remain largely suspended, excluding the military-run Myawady TV, while some service providers have reportedly been able to continue some wireless connection services.
- The Yangon Youth Network (YYN), Generation Wave, Students and Youth Congress of Burma (SYCB), Youth Response (YR), and other student unions condemned the military action, vowing that young people will stand against it.
- Bangladesh called for peace and stability in Myanmar, further adding that it expects to move forward with the process of voluntary repatriation of Rohingya Muslim refugees, which officials in Dhaka expect to resume in June.
- China’s Foreign Ministry stated that it has “noticed” the situation and that it “hopes the various parties in Myanmar will appropriately resolve their differences.”
- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) called for dialogue among the parties involved and the “return to normalcy.”
- Large-scale protests against the Tatmadaw’s actions were recorded on February 1 in Bangkok, Thailand and Tokyo, Japan.
Assessments & Forecast:
Military’s call for elections unlikely to lead to reversion of civilian control
- The recent comments by Suu Kyi and the NLD calling on citizens not to accept the current situation are likely to prolong ongoing military restrictions in the coming term. This is especially given the military’s concerns that protest calls and youth groups organizing online will spark widespread demonstrations. However, the military has seemingly refrained from deploying large numbers of soldiers in public areas, opting for control over communication channels and the defense of primary government installations rather than an on-ground show of force. FORECAST: That said, the Tatmadaw will be on high alert over the coming days and weeks until the situation stabilizes. It will likely continue to preemptively arrest youth leaders, civil society elements, NLD members, journalists, and ethnic group representatives in a bid to head-off nascent signs of unrest. Any large-scale rallies will likely be met with arrest sweeps and, to some extent, a violent crackdown.
- FORECAST: While the Tatmadaw has stated its intention to hold elections at the end of the one-year state of emergency, military officials are likely to use the coming period to reinforce its control over the country and its major government institutions. As such, while elections in some form may take place within the stated time frame, the country is unlikely to witness a return to high levels of civil control as has been the case since 2015. The return to military rule may also jeopardize the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), signed between the civilian government and ten ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in 2015. While this agreement has been largely ineffective in constraining kinetic Tatmadaw-EAO conflicts in the country’s periphery, it was still a symbolic achievement. As such, the developments will exacerbate long-simmering tensions between the Tatmadaw and various EAOs, including the Arakan Army (AA), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and other members of the Northern Alliance.
- The status of Rohingya Muslim refugees in neighboring Bangladesh is also likely to impact the geopolitical landscape in the aftermath of the events. This is especially relevant given the uncertainties surrounding the UN-backed repatriation process, which is unlikely to witness progress given past military policies towards the group. As such, the developments may dissuade large swaths of already-wary Rohingya from returning to Myanmar. FORECAST: The repatriation issue is expected to be at the forefront of regional and international discussions once the domestic situation becomes clear in the coming days and weeks. However, international pressure is unlikely to dissuade continued military action against the minority group.
China’s relatively neutral response reflects desire for stability to protect its investments, prevent cross-border refugee flows
- Parts of the international community have been quick to condemn the coup, including the US, the UK, and the EU. The developments present a test to these and other countries and multilateral institutions that previously championed Suu Kyi and the country’s democratic transition beginning in 2008. This is especially the case for the Biden administration in Washington, which issued a statement that the US stands “with the people of Myanmar in their aspirations for freedom, democracy, and development.”
- FORECAST: The events will test US President Joe Biden’s ability to rally a unified stand against democratic backsliding, which is a central plank of his foreign policy. Over the coming days and weeks, should the Tatmadaw refuse to relent, Washington may impose additional targeted sanctions against top military figures and their business assets. It is also likely to lobby its partners that have vocally decried the events to follow suit. However, the US has already sanctioned top Tatmadaw figures for past actions against the Rohingya, including chief Min Aung Hlaing, who is now effectively the country’s leader. Thus, it is unclear what punitive actions it has at its disposal.
- Conversely, China has taken a different tack and is instead calling for a return to stability. This is likely because Beijing’s primary interests lie in a number of economic and infrastructure projects in Myanmar, rather than the make-up of the government. Any immediate pause in these entities is unlikely to concern China, given the deep impact COVID-19 has had on cross-border trade and other facets of the economy. Further, over recent years, China has formed warm relations with both the civilian government and the Tatmadaw, which also informs its relatively neutral stance regarding the developments.
- FORECAST: China will continue monitoring the events closely, with its primary focus being on a possible influx of refugees crossing the more than 2,000 km-long border between the two countries. It will also seek to ensure stability in the country to protect its investments, most of which fall under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). Should Washington and other Western countries sanction the military, China will likely be eager to deepen ties with Naypyidaw to capitalize on the country’s waning favor with those calling for a restoration of the democratically-elected NLD to power.
- Avoid all travel to Myanmar over the coming days due to the extreme risk of civil unrest and political instability.
- Those currently residing in Myanmar are advised to shelter-in-place, stock up on adequate supplies of food, water, medicine, and any other essential goods for at least a week, and immediately prepare evacuation procedures to leave the country, given the growing threat of violent civil unrest.
- Those operating in Myanmar are advised to consult with us at [email protected]
- Avoid all government buildings and protests due to the risks of violence by both anti-government protesters and security forces.