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A Phaukphaw Friendship Test – OpEd

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Phaukphaw, in Burmese meaning brothers from the same mother indicating that they are of the same blue blood, a word chosen for the special relationships since its inception way back in the early 50s, when the Chinese Red Army (now the People’s Liberation Army) helped drove General Li Me’s Kuo Ming Tung troops from the Sino-Burma frontier to Taiwan, in Mekong military operation. This episode cemented the two country’s relations and Burma, became the first country to recognise the People’s Republic of China, outside the Communist bloc.

Cordial relations continued but when Burma became a pariah state in 1988 pro-democracy revolution, where the Tatmadaw (Burmese army) killed more than 10,000 in six major cities of the country, at a time when it took weeks or months for the outside world to comprehend, the full story of what had happened, China is the only country that did not condemn Tatmadaw and instead copied from the Burmese example and applied it to its own Chinese students next year in the Tiananmen Square. Obviously, the world knows, little about Burma, where Tatmadaw dominated by Myanmar, is implementing, its policy of a great nation of making one country, one race and one religion on the other non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities of Shan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Rakhine against the wishes of the founding fathers @ Panglong Conference (1947), compelling all of them no choice, but to rebel. However, the die is caste, as the UN and the international community accepted that “dictators can change the name of the country without the consensus of the people,” and the country became Myanmar.

But with this 3rd military coup (1st in 1962, 2nd in 1988) the current imagery is plentiful and unsettling. Filmed by participants on the ground and uploaded, sometimes immediately, the protests and crackdowns are reaching millions of handheld devices around the planet, also almost immediately compelling, the Tatmadaw’s unwritten motto of “Lying the very concept of truth” in jeopardy.

All these years, for more than half a century, China has taking the golden chance of lavishly giving the Tatmadaw some ten billion $ worth of arms especially tanks, planes, heavy artilleries, and several military hardware, not only to fight the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities but also to the pro democracy movement led by the students known as All Burma Students Democratic Front. For this the Junta reciprocated with several Chinese projects including the Myitsone Dam for the ambitious Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (一带一路倡议) without taking the people’s consensus. That is why the people label, China as Tatmadaw’s Stepfather. However, when the Junta’s administration was passed on to a pseudo democracy, the Thein Sein Administration together with the entire people objected to the Myitsone Dam project and was temporarily stopped. Since then, the bilateral relations were somewhat cautious.

In 2015 NLD administration led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came to power and China at once realize that it must adapt to this new condition and even though it continues to have good relations with the Tatmadaw and often than not the Chinese dignitaries continue to give courtesy calls on Senior General Than Shwe, whose invisible hands is controlling the marauding Tatmadaw. Like his predecessor Ne Win, an evil genius, he is the one that choses Min Aung Hlaing to be his heir. Soon, the Burmese Tatmadaw, now label by the people of Burma as Chinese Stepson discovered that his stepfather was not only satisfied with his mother (the country’s natural and human resources) but raping his sisters and killing his brothers by giving latest arms and ammunition to the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities freedom fighters. Hence, Tatmadaw was forced to turn to a new power, who is also a totalitarian regime like him, the choice is non other than Putin’s Russia. 

One can recollect that Burma, traditionally, has followed the Non-alignment policy and in fact during the civilian administration of Premier U Nu was one of the founders of the Colombo Conference which blossoms into the Nonalignment Movement, when Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia joined the band wagon, both Nikita Khrushchev and Marshall Nikolai Bulganin visited Burma. Since then, the Russo-Burmese relations were on friendly terms, because the Burmese government has allowed the Russian embassy in Rangoon, (just across the Foreign Ministry in Rangoon) as the KGB headquarters of Asia for the espionage of the American forces especially to the 6th fleet in Diego Garcia in the Indian ocean. 

Hence, in this military coup, one can witness that all the tanks, armoured vehicles, and heavy weapons on the streets of Burma were all Russian made, while the MIG fighters often flying over the Burmese skies. There are also thousands of young Burmese military officials who speak fluent Russian manning all these sophisticated vehicles commanded by the Russians advisers. Together with the light infantry brigades, they are the ones that spearheaded the suppression of the CDM (Civil Disobedient Movement) 

 The military which had ruled and exploited the country for more than half a century has made only a small pro-democracy reforms in the economic and political reforms, due to the pressure of Western countries led by US and now it discovered that even this quasi-democratic system no longer worked for the generals, who feared their ultimate authority would be curtailed. So instead of letting Myanmar’s budding democracy continue to grow, the armed forces chose to quash it by a coup.

The Tatmadaw hated the word “Democracy and the people of Burma” so much that is using weapons recklessly, as illustrated in several videos of firing indiscriminately in all directions, from the pickup trucks to the people and inside homes. Tatmadaw has deliberately deployed the cream of the fighting forces such as 33rd Light Infantry Division in Mandalay, the 77th in Rangoon and the 101st in Monywa, as one may recollect that it was the soldiers of the 33rd LID, have been implicated in war crimes in northern Shan State in 2016 and 2017, as well as crimes against humanity against the Rohingya Crisis in Rakhine State in 2017.

Its mays seems that the Burmese cause is going to be lost. Even though the joint statement of India, Japan, Australia, and the US said, “As longstanding supporters of Myanmar and its people, we emphasize the urgent need to restore democracy and the priority of strengthening democratic resilience.”

Today, the United States is taking further actions to respond to the violence enabled by Burma’s military leaders, to promote accountability for those responsible for the coup, and to target those who benefit financially from their connections to the military regime, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “The leaders of the coup, and their adult family members, should not be able to continue to derive benefits from the regime as it resorts to violence and tightens its stranglehold on democracy.” While the U.S. Treasury said it had sanctioned 10 individuals and three organizations “who played a leading role in the overthrow of Burma’s democratically elected government.” The Biden administration grants temporary deportation relief and work permits to the Burmese citizens. Thus about 1,600 Burmese already in the U.S. will be eligible for Temporary Protected Status for 18 months. When the Junta announced that the security forces are exercising “utmost restraint” in dealing with protesters it appears that the junta is asking the world to disbelieve our own eyes was the official response and Quad — the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia had call for the return of democratic rule in Burma. The U.S. Treasury Department adds two adult children Aung Pyae Sone and Khin Thiri Thet Mon of General Min Aung Hlaing together with six companies they own to its sanctions list. It is also understood that the US is working on further sanctions.

Since the coup, the military has used violent force to try to quell protests, leaving hundreds of dead and wounded prompting widespread international condemnation. Systematic and premeditated killings” of anti-coup protesters are being carried out by Myanmar’s security forces who are employing battlefield weaponry. No doubt Tatmadaw is using increasingly lethal tactics and weapons normally seen on the battlefield against peaceful protesters and bystanders, as many of those killings documented amount to extrajudicial executions,” Amnesty said. “These Myanmar military tactics are far from new, but their killing sprees have never before been livestreamed for the world to see,” They are “unrepentant” commanders, some already implicated in crimes against humanity, are “deploying their troops and murderous methods” against peaceful protesters.

The international R2P (Responsibility to Protect) is a far fletch dream as business always overrules the conscience, while for the Chinese Truth and Justice is in the bottom of the ladder, while economic and strategic matters. In fact, China has had a much more cozier relationship with the NLD because it was the quasi-democratic Thein Sein government that suspended the Myitsone project and agitated anti-China sentiment while the NLD government that helped China to repair its reputation and regain its influence in the people China. But because of its the Belt and Road Initiative(一带一路倡议)  has repeatedly said since early February that the military’s actions and protests are an internal affair, most recently when Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with journalists during Beijing’s annual legislative meetings. 

But when the smart Burmese youths countered it that “since if this is an internal affair of Burma, we might as well blow up the oil pipeline passing through Burma” woke up the Chinese and asked the Tatmadaw late last month to tighten pipeline security during ongoing anti-coup protests, suggesting growing tension in what seemed to be a cozy relationship between the neighboring nations. Beijing asked for increased security around the pipeline and help with encouraging more positive news media coverage of China during a February 23 meeting with Burmese officials. “China seeking assurances from a brutal and hated regime is the worst one could do at a time like this,” for the real problem is the coup, which the people see as a return to military dictatorship and the Chinese tantamount to recognize the military coup as legal government of Burma. 

Anti-China sentiment is never far from the surface in Burma. The Burmese regard their giant neighbour in much the same way Poles or Estonians regard Russia. Now, with Beijing defending homicidal generals, they seem not to realise that in the world beyond their censors, there is a diminishing chance of permanently hiding or denying such atrocities, wherever they occur. A lesson China has signally failed to absorb over Xinjiang and China’s international standing is plummeting. Feelings of animosity and enmity grow in the ever more sophisticated, connected global audience scrutinising its daily actions is not so easily bamboozled. The Milk Tea Alliance of the youths knitting the Burmese, Thai and Hongkong youths in their struggle against dictatorship is entirely a new phenomenon to the dictators of Asia and perhaps the “new Mao”, is over-reaching, putting self-aggrandisement and personal legacy before Chinese national interest.

China and Russia, in the UN Security Council, have so far not showed their fangs yet. The U.N. Security Council (UNSC) adopted a presidential statement approved by all 15 council members, including China had strongly condemned the violence against peaceful protesters and called for “utmost restraint” by the Tatmadaw. A presidential statement is a step below a resolution but becomes part of the official record of the U.N.’s most powerful body. China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said that “It is important the council members speak in one voice,” and declared that it is now time for de-escalation, diplomacy and dialogue and called for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. “Yun Sun,” a senior fellow and co-director of the East Asia Program and director of the China Program at the Stimson Center said that “Chinese frustration with the domestic violence and instability in Myanmar is growing quickly — they are in every way bad for Chinese interests in the country and its international reputation. But it does not suggest that China will abandon its non-interference principle, agree to U.N. sanctions and international intervention just yet.” In fact, China’s relationship with the Burmese armed forces reflects a “coziness” only in comparison with the Western countries’ relationship with the Tatmadaw. This was compounded by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, recently “called on all parties to refrain from instigating further violence, and for all sides to exercise utmost restraint as well as flexibility.” Hence, there is a slight chance for the conflict resolution while preparing for the worst let us hope for the best

*Kanbawza Win, is the former Foreign Affairs Secretary to the Prime Minister of Burma that seeks political asylum in Canada,

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One thought on “A Phaukphaw Friendship Test – OpEd

  • March 15, 2021 at 8:32 pm
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    The outside world criticism is nothing to the Myanmar military government which was challenged in 1962, 1976,1988, 2009, 2021 with demonstrations but couldn’t overthrow them. The same is going to happen, dead, maim, properties loss. The only thing to do is to win the next election and have a unified coalition government that includes all ethnic minorities, regions for the betterment of the country. The people of Myanmar do not want a dictator a democracy elected one nor unelected one.

    Reply

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