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Here is your Mekong Memo Myanmar for December 19, 2023. As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated.
Precarious State: ASEAN and Regional Implications
Myanmar is on the brink of potential collapse, posing challenges for ASEAN and the broader Southeast Asian region. Analysts warn that ASEAN lacks a contingency plan for such a scenario, as the civil war intensifies. The National Unity Government (NUG) reports low morale and defections within the junta, while resistance groups gain ground. However, experts caution against premature predictions of the regime's fall. The situation's regional implications include border security concerns, potential forced migration, and economic disruptions. ASEAN's role in addressing this crisis is crucial, yet its ability to respond effectively remains uncertain.
Economic Growth Plummets to 1%
The World Bank forecasts Myanmar's economic growth for the 2023-24 fiscal year at a mere 1%. The "Challenges Amid Conflict" report from the Myanmar Economic Monitor indicates a weakening of near-term growth prospects. The country has faced deteriorating economic conditions, with a fragile recovery in early 2023 and an 18% depreciation of the kyat against the US dollar. Escalating armed conflict since October has disrupted lives, trade routes, and heightened economic uncertainty. Power shortages, junta interventions, and increased logistics costs due to the conflict have further strained the economy. Additionally, foreign direct investment remains weak, and government spending on education and health has significantly decreased.
Read more: The Irrawaddy
Rebel Advances: A Complex Path to Peace
Rebels have made significant territorial gains against the military junta, supported in part by China's tacit approval. The Brotherhood Alliance, comprising ethnic armed organizations, initiated Operation 1027, capturing military outposts and key trade routes. Despite these successes, the rebels face challenges in coordination and defense, limiting their ability to control major cities. The junta, while losing ground, maintains control over urban areas and key military assets. The conflict, which escalated after the 2021 coup, is evolving, with the rebels moving closer to central Myanmar. China's role remains complex, balancing support for the rebels with its interests in Myanmar. The situation suggests a potential future with autonomous ethnic enclaves, but a comprehensive peace remains elusive.
Junta: Not Yet Defeated Despite Recent Setbacks
Despite recent significant losses to ethnic armed organizations and the People’s Defence Force, it is premature to declare the imminent collapse of Myanmar's military junta. The Tatmadaw, Myanmar's armed forces, has faced its biggest battlefield challenge since the 2021 coup, losing key bases and towns. However, experts caution against overestimating these defeats. The Tatmadaw remains a formidable force with loyal and cohesive units. The junta's resilience and resources, along with external support, suggest it could withstand the current opposition onslaught, despite the strategic shift in the civil war.
Read more: East Asia Forum
Russia's Indian Ocean Military Maneuvers
Russia's recent military exercises in the Indian Ocean, including significant naval drills with Myanmar, is a sign of an important strategic shift in the region. These exercises, particularly the first major Russian-Myanmar naval drill in the Andaman Sea, demonstrate Russia's intent to strengthen military partnerships and expand its influence. For Myanmar, this collaboration with Russia could be seen as an effort to diversify its military partnerships amid ongoing internal conflicts and international isolation. The drills, involving significant Russian naval presence, indicate a deepening of military ties between Myanmar and Russia, potentially impacting the regional power dynamics and Myanmar's own strategic positioning in the Indian Ocean. The article also goes into good detail of India’s probable view of the exercises.
Read more: The Diplomat