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Here is your Mekong Memo Myanmar for January 30, 2024. As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated.
This week we have a few “must-read stories”. The first article holds the opinion that absent foreign intervention, the Junta will win a war of attrition. The second holds pretty much the opposite view. The two articles after that relate to hints of any such foreign intervention. Although we don’t have any articles this week to support the thesis, it seems as though none of Thailand, India or the United States has much appetite for intervention at the moment. Please don’t forget to share this newsletter with someone else who would find it to be of value!
Stalemate as Junta Keeps Hold of Urban Centers
This week’s first article is headlined “Myanmar’s junta doesn’t have to ‘win,’ it just has to wait.” The junta continues to maintain control over urban areas; its grip on Yangon, Naypyidaw, and Mandalay are integral to its strategy of enduring control rather than complete dominance. Resistance groups lack the unified command and external support necessary to challenge the junta effectively. The dynamics of these groups, with differing agendas and limited military capability, hinder their efforts against the well-entrenched military regime. Foreign involvement remains limited, and the author proposes that absent more intentional intervention from abroad, the conflict will remain prolonged with no clear path to resolution.
Read more: Brookings
Live By the Gun, Die By the Gun
Operation 1027 has led to the capture of a large portion of territory previously controlled by the junta, including key border crossings, towns, and military bases. The current trajectory suggests that, without external intervention, the junta is likely to be overthrown by force, mirroring the violent means through which it initially seized power.
Read more: The Diplomat
Junta on the Brink: A Shift in Global Alliances and the Rise of Internal Rebellion
The junta, once supported by major powers like Russia and China, is facing a shift in external alliances and internal challenges. Recent capture of more than 300 military bases and border crossings, indicate a potential end to military rule. Internationally, the junta's reliance on Russia has grown as its relations with China sour due to border control issues and criminal activities. With the junta's weakening grip, there's an emerging opportunity for international actors to reassess their positions and potentially support a move towards stability and democracy in Myanmar.
Read more: The Diplomat
China Outperforms Western Diplomacy
China has emerged as an important influencer in the ongoing conflict, overshadowing Western nations. The success of Operation 1027 was partly due to China's tacit support. In contrast, Western efforts, including those by the United Nations and individual countries, have been largely flaccid. The West's failure to provide substantial support or innovative solutions has left Myanmar to depend on self-reliance and regional actors like China, a significant shift in the geopolitical landscape of Southeast Asia.
Read more: Asia Times
Australian Mining's Role in Myanmar's Turmoil
Australian mining companies are implicated in funding Myanmar's military, as revealed by Justice for Myanmar. Despite international sanctions, at least 10 Australian-linked firms continue operations in Myanmar, indirectly supporting the military's regime. This involvement raises ethical concerns and questions about Australia's failure to align with its Western allies in sanctioning Myanmar's military and its enterprises. Although there is always a complex interplay between international business and human rights, there are increasing calls for urgent action from the Australian government.
Economic and Civil Liberties Train Wreck
The military takeover has led to a significant decline in democracy, civil liberties, and press freedom, hamstringing the economy. The country's democratic indices have plummeted, putting them in the same league as North Korea and Afghanistan. Civil liberty scores reached zero in 2022, indicating a complete absence of such freedoms. Press freedom also deteriorated, with Myanmar imprisoning the third-highest number of journalists globally. This turmoil has resulted in a sharp decrease in GDP per capita and a decline in the Human Development Index, an indictment of the country's deteriorating health, knowledge, and standard of living.
Read more: The Hindu
A New Year of Fresh Leadership Challenges
The military, led by the State Administration Council (SAC), faced early setbacks in January, 2024. Operations by resistance forces have seen government losses of several generals, six infantry divisions, and a regional SAC operation command. These operations, intended to gain autonomy and eradicate the military dictatorship, has also led to the capture of the Sino-Burmese trade route. The SAC's failure to acknowledge these defeats in public proclamations contrasts starkly with the reality of their diminishing control and the growing strength of the resistance movement. This has led to questions about Hlaing's leadership and talks of a potential replacement.