As Russia withdraws resources from Myanmar to focus on Ukraine, China has filled the void by publicly supporting the junta. Meanwhile, the situation inside Myanmar continues to deteriorate, with “the military only able to hang on [to power] by using violence of tragic proportions,” says USIP’s Jason Tower.

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.

Transcript

Julie Mason
Jason Tower is director for the Burma Program based in Yangon for the United States Institute of Peace, here to talk about how the war in Ukraine is influencing China and its backing of the junta in Myanmar. Jason, welcome. How are you doing?

Jason Tower
Good. Thanks, Julie. Good to be back on the show.

Julie Mason
How's the situation where you are?

Jason Tower
Well, the situation in Myanmar has actually just continued to deteriorate. We're now 14 months out since the February 1, 2021 coup. We've had now for well over a year a situation of full scale civil war in country. And you're really seeing increasingly signs that the Myanmar military is only able to hang on by using violence of tragic proportions against communities across the country. We've seen hundreds of villages burned. We've got, since the coup, over 600,000 people displaced. And we also have hundreds of People's Defense Forces that have been formed around the country to work on trying to provide support to the people and to work towards restoring democracy in country. But it's a pretty bleak picture in Myanmar at the moment.

Julie Mason
What is the impact of the U.S. recent determination that the Myanmar military have committed genocide? Everyone was so jumpy about that with Ukraine, what does it mean for this conflict?

Jason Tower
Yeah, so I mean, I think the important thing to recognize is that you still now continue to see systematic attacks on ethnic and religious groups. In fact, you saw last week the military invade a Catholic Church and capture the Archbishop of Mandalay, one of the major cities of Burma in the Burma heartlands. But also ongoing violence against the Bamar majority, ongoing violence against different minority groups across the country. And, you know, at the same time, I think the U.S. move is is certainly going to enhance some of the international legal proceedings that are underway, including the ICJ case, the ICC cases, as well as a couple of other cases underway that are also looking at the the junta's involvement in genocide and war crimes that are being advanced by individual governments around the world.

Julie Mason
What's China's piece in this?

Jason Tower
Yeah, so China has major economic and strategic interests in Myanmar. Since the early 90s China has worked on basically trying to harness the Myanmar economy to that of its southwest provinces, trying to build out through Myanmar a corridor that will give it access to the Indian Ocean. That will open up a strategic energy corridor for China's southwest, through which it's already able to receive natural gas and oil through Myanmar, kind of giving it a second channel for access to those resources beyond the Malacca Straits. And to a large extent the development strategy of the neighboring province of Yunnan, the province that is along the Myanmar border sharing about a 1000 kilometer long border with Myanmar. You're seeing that province in particular centering its development strategy around the connectivity it has with Myanmar. So the interests that China has there are pretty significant.

Julie Mason
This feels like a job for the Quad. Are they on this? Is this a matter of interest for that group?

Jason Tower
Well, I think certainly, China is a matter of interest of all of the different quad members. One thing you've seen since the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, is that Russia went from being one of the leading countries providing support to the Myanmar army in terms of providing arms, giving it legitimacy through high level interactions with the military, inviting the military's State Administrative Council to different meetings, high level summits in Russia, for example. You've now seen the Russians really in a position where they're not able to maintain that level of support. And so since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, you've seen China's start to step up a bit more its public support for the military. You saw in late March, China invites the military's leading diplomat to visit China, to make a high level visit to China, where new aid was promised. And China is now really starting to push for other neighboring countries of Myanmar, particularly countries that are part of the China-led Lancang Mekong Cooperation forum to start having more high level interactions with the regime. So I think the Quad is right to be very concerned about the growing levels of Chinese interest and support for the military in country. And there's really an opportunity at the present moment for the Quad partners to start emphasizing much more robustly the democracy pillar, looking at how they can start to provide more strategic supports to the National Unity Government, to the ethnic armed organizations that are also fighting against the military, and to the still large majority of Myanmar people who overwhelmingly reject the military's efforts to maintain control by using violence in country.

Julie Mason
Before we run out of time, I'm really curious, what is day to day life like there?

Jason Tower
Well, I've actually been out of Myanmar for some time now, but maintain close contacts with many people in country. I will say it's difficult. I mean, you no longer have access to U.S. dollars, you've seen actually a big crackdown both by the Myanmar military itself on the use or maintenance of dollar deposits. You're seeing now increasing food shortages in country due also to largely the mismanagement or lack of management of the economy by the military. And then you've seen just the full curtailment of all civil liberties in country. So you know, free media is gone, civil society is largely pushed into hiding, media's had to go underground. So it's a very difficult situation. And then you're having on a daily basis bombings in major cities like Yangon with intermittent raids by military forces who are trying to track down anyone who's involved in opposition to military rule. So it's a difficult situation on the ground in Myanmar.

Julie Mason
Jason Tower is director for the Burma program at the United States Institute of Peace. Jason, thank you very much.

Jason Tower
Thanks a lot. Great to be on, Julie.

Julie Mason
Good to talk.

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