With the visit of Vice President Kamala Harris in Southeast Asia this week, Myanmar is back in focus on the world stage as U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, having already met virtually with leaders of ASEAN last week as Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin visited the region in July. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken expressed “grave concern” over Myanmar’s military rule.
Secretary Blinken discussed combatting the COVID-19 pandemic (COVAX/WHO/GAVI/GATES), regional and international challenges (China threat), acting boldly against the climate crisis (UN Global Sustainability Goals), strengthening human capital development (World Bank), and taking urgent action in Burma (Obama/Biden/Hillary Administration operational failure). Vice President Harris’ official role in her visits is to strengthen relationships and expand economic cooperation in the region.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has also been in communication with Zin Mar Aung, Acting Foreign Minister of the rebel resistance shadow government in Myanmar, referred to as the National Unity Government (NUG).
National Unity Government (NUG) in Mayanmar: Top row, left to right: Mahn Win Khaing Than, U Win Myint, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Duwa Lashi La. Bottom row, left to right: Daw Zin Mar Aung, Dr. Lian Hmung Sakhong, Dr. Zaw Wai Soe, Dr. Tu Hkawng.
Since our last article, The National Unity Government has appeared on the scene. The new resistance/ shadow Government party was formed after the National League for Democracy (NLD) had seemingly won the National election by a landslide. Claims of massive voter fraud were made by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and overshadowed the election as special coronavirus provisions paved the way for serious concerns about the integrity and security of the election. The Military (Junta) then declared a State of Emergency and seized power to purportedly conduct wide-scale investigations.
Recently, General Min Aung Hlaing has annulled the elections due to the belief that NLD committed electoral fraud, though no proof of such has ever been provided. The Military Government has now extended the State of Emergency until at least 2023. The General issued assurances that one day, elections would be held again; however, no specified time frame was given.
Since the State of Emergency was declared back in February, media outlets are reporting that resistance forces and military forces clash regularly with substantial loss of life on both sides, mass arrests are occurring, businesses have pulled away from the region, journalists are being harassed, and arrested, including U.S. citizens, and drug and human trafficking are on the rise. Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases appear to be surging, and there are food shortages. Distrust in the Military-led Government has created a black market for Coronavirus vaccines and therapies. Many Burmese do not trust the vaccines that the Military has procured through China and Russia, and the Indian vaccines are limited.
In addition, an assassination attempt was made in the U.S. by two Myanmar nationals against the Myanmar Ambassador to the U.N., who has been openly critical of the Military Government. The Junta has denied any involvement in the plot.
Campaigns have begun popping up on Facebook, calling for the UN to recognize the resistance party (National Unity Government) as its official government at the upcoming United Nations 76th General Assembly in New York on Sept. 14th. Hong Kong protesters have even translated and shared their protesting manual (HK19 Manual) with NUG in Myanmar. On Twitter, bots have been put into place to aggregate the Myanmar hashtag efforts and what appears to be bot accounts supporting said resistance efforts. There was no way to tell for certain whether the accounts are legitimate citizens, supporters, or sock-puppet accounts.
American leadership is calling for ASEAN members to become more involved with pro-democracy efforts related to Myanmar while also trying to convince Myanmar to participate in the COVAX (US/UN/Gavi/Gates) efforts rather than buying vaccines from China. Only about 3% of the Myanmar population has been vaccinated, but the Junta hopes to reach 50% by the end of the year.
Myanmar has its fair share of challenges, as does the region in general. People around the world were hoping to see evidence to support what has been labeled a coup to support the action taken by the Military. No such evidence has been made available. If there is no proof of electoral fraud as they claim, how can the world legitimize the Military Government?
Since becoming increasingly isolated and sanctioned, Myanmar has had to rely on the relationships between China and Russia for coronavirus vaccines and military equipment, which leaves the region less safe.