Statements like these, however, have little more than made it clear how limited the world’s diplomatic arsenal is against crises of this nature – especially when most governments are fighting the Covid-19 pandemic or trying to revive their dwindling economies, and Myanmar’s military leaders do not seem concerned about bringing their country back to pariah. “The army in Myanmar has a long track record of not listening to the outside world, not caring about what people think, but living vicariously off the isolation that is then imposed,” the Southeast Asia- Expert Michael Vatikiotis.
Indeed, it’s hard to see how international opprobrium or even sanctions – a blunt and controversial tool with limited track records – can convince generals to release the leaders they’ve jailed and accept that the military last lost election in November . Nor is it likely that measures against the military will be supported by China and Russia, which have embarked on a softer line in response to the coup.So is there anything that could induce the generals to retreat? Myanmar is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the political bloc that is likely to have the greatest influence on the generals. So far the bloc has not teamed up behind a strong call to action, but it is high time it did so. If member countries like Thailand experience a flood of refugees and turn the unrest into a regional crisis, it could force ASEAN to relax its policy of non-interference in member state affairs and take a strong stance on the junta. However, this should be done for the sake of ASEAN’s own credibility. Regional companies could also potentially play a role in finding a way for their cautious governments. For example, the Japanese beverage giant Kirin Holdings has already announced that it will cut ties with a military conglomerate in Myanmar. Others could follow suit. It will not be easy. Myanmar’s military has a well-deserved reputation for ruthlessness, which I saw firsthand on my first visit to Myanmar in 1989. A year earlier, the government’s brutal crackdown on a student-led pro-democracy movement killed thousands. I interviewed many student activists who could barely hold together in describing the mass murders. Sleep, deprivation of food, and physical torture were described to me as part of the confession-taking measures. Shortly after I was arrested for photographing a market square, a lieutenant colonel in the Burmese army told me, “People must learn discipline before they can have democracy.” The military’s condescending attitude towards Western institutions remains ingrained . During the 2008 Cyclone Nargis emergency, which killed nearly 140,000 people and affected around 2.4 million people, the government at the time had the audacity to insist on the list of humanitarian workers nominated by the UN Secretary-General’s office to check. Reports of the military’s diversion of relief supplies were widespread and those who reported the extent of the disaster were arrested.However, there are some differences this time. The latest coup may have been inspired by the success of Thailand’s seizure of power over their common border in 2014, but the generals seem to have underestimated the level of resistance, particularly a civil disobedience movement that has paralyzed large sections of the public and the private sector . What differs significantly from those who oppose this military crackdown is that the population as a whole is much younger, has seen many years of unprecedented political freedom, and is over-connected through social media. An indication of their dexterity is a conscious effort to address the international community with multilingual characters and protest slogans, such as the giant slogan “F ** k the Coup” painted on a major urban street. An endless stream of powerful images of protesters dressed as beauty queens and shirtless bodybuilders, and even captivating music videos, were shared with global television and social media audiences. Through hashtags like #milkteaalliance and #whatshappeninginmyanmar, protesters have maintained solidarity and shared outrage with other youth-led movements in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand. These measures should at least keep the topic high on global social media feeds and make it difficult for regional governments to ignore them.
In the end, Myanmar’s fate could boil down to who can immerse longer.
The generals may already be desperate for cash – the US blocked its attempt to remove about $ 1 billion from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shortly after the coup – and it is unclear how long it will see a persistent economic deadlock Especially when it affects the many overseas joint ventures associated with the military. However, with the economy stalling even before the coup, it remains to be seen how long people can survive on the barricades in the face of increasing military brutality and without a steady income.
If the generals prevail, the number of people living under military rule along with those in Thailand in this corner of Southeast Asia will almost double to about 124 million people. That is a prospect that ASEAN and the wider international community must prevent at all costs.