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Myanmar Policy Updates

Since the military overthrew a democratically elected government in Myanmar in February 2021, the US has been one of the major nations to publicly denounce the coup and consistently urge for the restoration of democracy.

The United States has continued to support democracy by imposing sanctions on 80 persons and 32 entities so far in an effort to deny the regime the resources it needs to carry out its violent policies and to advance the democratic aspirations of Burma’s citizens. The US also declared that it would hold the Burmese military accountable for brutality against the country’s general populace, particularly the Rohingya group.

In addition to bringing a case against Myanmar’s Junta dictatorship before the International Court of Justice under the Genocide Convention, the US also supported a UN General Assembly resolution that would have prohibited the import of guns into Burma. The US Senate’s recent “Burma Act,” which was passed in December of last year, reinforced the US’s support for democratic organizations like NUG and EAOs.

However, since January 2023, a sudden shift in the US policy with regard to Myanmar is been seen.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said (Feb 22), his government is appropriately handling Japan’s ‘Bago River Bridge Construction Project’ in Myanmar, being built partly by Japanese construction giant ‘Yokogawa Bridge Corp’. Myanmar Now reported that a steel mill owned by the military-owned conglomerate ‘Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC)’ was supplying steel for the project and profiting enormously.  Human Rights Watch says, from July 2022 to January 2023, Yokogawa Bridge Corp. transferred around US$2 million to MEC for the project, with United States government approval. While the US, UK, EU, Canada, and Australia have sanctioned MEC, doing business with MEC is surprising.

Japan, a close ally of the US, has recently been observed to be more engaged in Burma. Yuhei Sasakawa, the chairman of the Nippon Foundation and Japan’s special representative in Myanmar, mediated cease-fire agreements between the Arakan Army and the military Junta in 2019, 2020, and 2022. The successful negotiation of Sasakawa is creating a positive image of Japan to Myanmar’s  military, EAOs and NUG. Two of the five stated main goals of the Sasakawa’s Peace Foundation are to strengthen Japan’s friendship with the United States and  increasing Japan’s presence in Asia.

Junta boss Min Aung Hlaing handed the ‘Thiri Pyanchi’ titles and decorations for the strenuous cooperation to bring about peace, development and prosperity in Myanmar, to Hideo Watanabe, chairman of the Japan-Myanmar Friendship Association, also represents Japanese investors in Myanmar. Min Aung Hlaing called Watanabe a “good friend” and thanked him for his efforts to “foster ties between the two countries and two armies, and attract Japanese investment into Myanmar”. These explains a lot. The US through its close allay Japan, expanding its diplomatic, strategic and socioeconomic presence in Myanmar.

What changed US policy towards Burma?

So, what made the US change its stance on Myanmar all of a sudden? Is there any vested interest of Washington in the South Asian country? Yes, they are Russia, China and India.   

In the wake of the coup and subsequent Western ostracization, the Myanmar junta established good relations with Russia. While Myanmar receives arms, resources and diplomatic backing from Moscow, Russia got another purchaser of its advanced weaponry in the backdrop of the West’s sanctions. Myanmar’s ruler, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, in addition to visiting Russia thrice, also supported Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

Myanmar is also a buyer of Russian oil and recently signed an agreement with Moscow to explore nuclear energy in the Southeast Asian country. Top Russian Defense Official Seeks Closer Burma Ties. Myanmar was also invited to become a part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia, and India.

Anthony Davis, a British journalist with over four decades of experience covering conflicts in Asia, gave interview in an online video conference on “Military Possibilities 2023 in Myanmar” and Q&A session held for about 150 Myanmar journalists commented that, China remains an exclusive diplomatic relation with the military Junta, EAOs and NUG. Its socio-economic presence in Myanmar is also remarkable. Myanmar is China’s playground. No one including Myanmar Junta, NUG and EAOs dares to mess with China. He also commented that the possibility of a counter-coup in Myanmar is impossible. Because Myanmar army is well-organized and disciplined.

Now, Biden is witnessing that his atrocious plan to destroy the diplomatic, political and economic interests of Myanmar has backfired, as it ended up establishing a strong partnership between Myanmar and US’s chief adversary i.e., Russia and China. Therefore, in order to break the alliance between Moscow and Naypyidaw and counter the influence of Russia in Southeast Asia, the US has now deployed its ally, Japan, to further its agenda. The US cannot directly grant financial aid to Myanmar’s junta because then it will be obvious that Biden is endeavoring to counter the presence of Russia and China  in Southeast Asia. So, the US has approached Japan to bribe Myanmar into switching its loyalty to the West.

It must be noted that this is the same US which earlier was preaching about the significance of democracy in Myanmar and pledged that it will prosecute the Burmese military leaders. However, in the face of the diplomatic, economic and political rise of Russia and China with Myanmar, the US has abandoned all principles of morality and is ready to embrace Myanmar’s junta.

Source: moderndiplomacy