The Ongoing Ethnic Conflict In Myanmar: Implications For Indo-Pacific Region – Analysis


The ongoing conflict in Myanmar has characteristics that extend beyond its internal boundaries, including regional and global dimensions. The ongoing violence in Myanmar has significant implications for regional peace and security, thereby impacting the economic and political interests of global powers. Consequently, its ramifications have significant consequences for the strategic struggle within the Indo-Pacific region.

The escalation of violence in Myanmar may be attributed to many significant factors stemming from geopolitical competition among key global powers. The ongoing violence in Myanmar poses a significant challenge to the strategic interests of the United States, Japan, India, Australia, and Thailand. These nations have been assisting Myanmar in its efforts toward democratic transition and socio-economic development while also actively interacting with the country on a range of matters, including counter-terrorism, human rights, commerce, and connectivity.

The ongoing war in Myanmar presents significant humanitarian and refugee issues for neighboring countries, particularly Bangladesh, where over one million Rohingya refugees are now residing. The destabilization and compromised security of the region has significant implications for its economic and political interests. This situation presents a favorable prospect for China to augment its influence and power in the region, given its prominent role as Myanmar’s primary economic partner and political ally.

The violence in Myanmar has significantly and adversely affected its economy. The ongoing battle has resulted in a significant economic downturn, with projections indicating a contraction of around 18% in 2021. The ongoing conflict has resulted in a significant increase in inflation rates and a devaluation of the national currency, leading to a decline in the buying power and savings of the population.

In the first half of 2021, there was a decrease of 33% in exports and a decrease of 38% in imports. In the same time frame, there was a significant decline of 76% in foreign direct investment.

The military junta used the ongoing violence as a pretext to rationalize its coup d’état and subsequent suppression of the pro-democracy movement. The military junta is using the battle to secure economic and political backing from its allies, with a particular focus on China. The military junta is undermining the opposition factions, including both the civilian movement and the armed resistance organizations. The military regime has used aggressive force and implemented a strategy known as “four-cut tactics” to quell the demonstrations, detain the advocates, and sever their channels of financial backing, communication, information dissemination, and assistance.

The junta has also been engaging in the deliberate targeting of ethnic armed groups, initiating military offensives inside their territory and against civilian populations. Nevertheless, the opposition factions exhibit unwavering determination in their pursuit of democratic ideals and the protection of human rights. Notably, their cause has garnered considerable support and solidarity from industrialized nations and prominent international organizations.

China has made significant investments in Myanmar’s infrastructure, energy, and natural resources sectors while also assisting with its military and diplomatic objectives. China perceives Myanmar as a significant geopolitical access point to the Indian Ocean, gaining direct access to the Malacca Strait for its marine commerce and energy resources. China has advocated for the initiation of dialogue and the principle of non-interference in Myanmar’s domestic matters while engaging in contact with both the military administration and the opposition parties.

The ongoing violence in Myanmar has detrimental effects on the lives and well-being of a significant number of individuals, posing a danger to the stability and prosperity of both the region and the global community. The war has resulted in the emergence of a power vacuum and an atmosphere devoid of legal authority, facilitating the unhindered operation of criminal networks and armed factions. Also, the proliferation of organized crime and transnational threats, such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, weapons smuggling, money laundering, and terrorism, has heightened as a result. The violence has further contributed to an increased demand for illegal substances and weaponry among both fighters and civilians.

India’s commitments to regional and international organizations and the demands placed on it, such as those of ASEAN and the Quad, influence its actions. India has implemented a pragmatic and nuanced approach toward engaging and cooperating with all parties involved in the conflict. India has adeptly managed a nuanced equilibrium in its engagement with both the military regime and the pro-democracy factions in Myanmar. India has actively engaged in several development and connectivity initiatives inside Myanmar, including the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, the Rhi-Tiddim Road Project, and the Sitwee Port Project. The primary objective of these initiatives is to increase commerce, tourism, and interpersonal connections between India and Myanmar while also fostering India’s integration within the ASEAN states.

Additionally, the Indian government has refrained from severing diplomatic relations with the junta. India has refrained from recognizing the National Unity Government (NUG). However, India exhibits caution in avoiding any actions that may provoke the military regime or result in a loss of influence to China within the context of Myanmar.

The escalation of violence in Myanmar may be attributed to the geopolitical competition between India and China, which is manifesting itself in many ways. India and China are engaged in a competition to exert influence and power over Myanmar, a country that has significant importance for its geopolitical and economic objectives within the region. Myanmar has an extensive border that it shares with both India and China, while also enjoying proximity to the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.

India and China have made substantial investments in Myanmar’s infrastructure, energy, and natural resources sectors while also providing assistance for its growth and fostering collaboration in matters of security. India and China exhibit divergent perspectives and strategies on the situation in Myanmar, thereby reflecting their distinct geopolitical objectives and value systems.

Accusations have been made against India and China over their alleged assistance or collaboration with various armed groups in Myanmar, potentially exacerbating the ongoing war or undermining peacebuilding efforts. India has been said to have supplied weaponry and conducted training for several ethnic armed groups that have formed alliances with the opposition, including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Arakan Army (AA). India has expressed concerns about China’s purported support for some Indian insurgent organizations, including the People’s Liberation Army of Manipur (PLAM) and the Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF), which operate from the territory of Myanmar.

China has faced allegations of providing weaponry and supplies to the junta while also playing a role in assisting its diplomatic engagements with other nations. China has been subject to suspicion about its alleged assistance to some Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) near its border, including the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

The ongoing crisis in Myanmar presents a significant test for the significance of regional organizations, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Quad (an informal alliance of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia). ASEAN has endeavored to engage in mediation efforts about the crisis in Myanmar. However, the organization encounters some constraints from its decision-making process, which relies on consensus, as well as its adherence to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of its member nations. ASEAN has faced criticism about its perceived deficiencies in terms of unity and efficacy in handling the crisis.

The Quad has been advocating for an Indo-Pacific vision that emphasizes democracy, the rule of law, and human rights, although it has encountered challenges in achieving cohesive coordination in addressing the situation in Myanmar. The Quad has encountered skepticism and opposition from many regional governments due to their concerns about being entangled in a geopolitical competition or clash between major powers.

In conclusion, the conflict in Myanmar has significance beyond its domestic boundaries, extending its impact to both regional and global levels. This conflict has consequential consequences for strategic rivalry within the Indo-Pacific region. The conflict will have a significant impact on the distribution of power and influence among the primary stakeholders while also influencing the potential for peace, stability, and economic growth in the region.

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Associate at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). She is a research analyst in security studies. She obtained her Master's and Bachelor's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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