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A Better Response to the Myanmar Crisis

Like most countries in East Asia, Myanmar is torn between allying with the two superpowers of the modern world, the United States and China. Myanmar is a Southeast Asian country located near Vietnam and below China. There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to choosing either side. The United States is a democracy that claims to uphold and support liberal values and self-determination while also encouraging its allies to join international organizations that can grow their economy. China, however, is much more historically and culturally close to East Asian nations such as Myanmar and holds a different view, believing America’s desire to spread its values and culture is domineering and erodes autonomy.

Myanmar usually does not make the news for a Western audience due to its relative obscurity and lack of political influence on the world stage. However, for a few weeks in 2021, this changed due to a successful coup attempt against the Myannese government by the military, highlighted by a video of a woman performing a workout routine in a mask for an online course with tanks rolling in the background. Many media outlets gave an expected response that this coup was a great tragedy for democracy and quickly condemned the coup.

Regrettably, the details of why the military chose to take over were left mostly overlooked. The perception the leading generals held was that the elected government was corrupt and was supported by and supportive of the Chinese Communist Party. They believed that this government was so entrenched that it would be impossible to shift Myanmar towards a pro-Western stance without intervention.

Accordingly, after the coup, the generals who headed it opened their hands to Washington stating that now that the influence of China was squashed, Myanmar could be another reliable U.S. ally in the region just like South Korea, Japan, the Philippines or Taiwan.

The Biden administration, perhaps partially due to the trauma of the attack on January 6th, 2021, which they viewed as an insurrection, roundly condemned the coup and demanded that Myanmar return to civilian government, burning any bridges this new government wanted to create. 

The Myanmese were disappointed by the response of the Americans and declared neutrality, still wishing to prevent Chinese domination of their country but unwilling to work with Americans who could not see that Myanmar could either be a democracy or an American ally, not both. 

The isolation of Myanmar is a strategic blow to the United States. If maintaining influence in Southeast Asia is a foreign policy priority of the United States, then every nation in the region should be viewed as a potential ally and good relations should be cultivated with all, regardless of the system of government. 

Myanmar handed itself to the United States on a silver platter. For ideological reasons, the platter of a Myannese alliance was thrown to the ground. It is unlikely that there will be such an opportunity again.

It is understandable why the Biden administration chose to reject Myanmar’s outreach. The raison d’etre of the Cold War was the idea that communism was inherently evil and that preventing the spread of communism was a moral, not strategic end. 

In the current tensions between the United States and China, it appears that the United States wishes to be on the side of democracy and fight against what it perceives to be tyranny in China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and other adversarial nations. To this end, supporting a government that overthrew a democracy would be a violation of principles. 

After the death of Joseph Stalin, Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev changed the state ideology of the Soviet Union resulting in an ideological split with China.  This resulted in, Richard Nixon, a fierce anti-communist, opening relations with Communist China not because of any ideological agreement or a desire to legitimize communism but because the Soviet threat was so great that the formation of any alliance was necessary.

If the United States is serious about its intention to stop the spread of tyranny and more specifically contain Chinese influence within Asia, then it must take any allies it can. 

I imagine even the Myanese military government wishes that it was possible to be an American ally and democratic but to win this second Cold War the United States must work with the world as it is, not how it wishes it was. 

Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the individual author. 

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2 commenti

Really great work. I have been following the war since it started and am glad someone else is as well. The junta is one of the most vile regimes on the planet currently, and as such I believe the conflict must be reported on. Based on recent rebel victories, I would not be surprised if democratic rule returns sooner rather than later.

Mi piace

This is a great breakdown of a rather obscure conflict. Your realist perspective is apt here regarding the way in which the US should interface with "any allies it can get". I find it interesting that although the US ostensibly defends democracy that there is no material support for the insurgent militia groups. I am unsure if it would only serve to aid China's cause in the country, or if the conflict is itself too inconsequential and so a kind word denouncing the coup suffices as support.

Mi piace
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