Increased coordination between various elements of Myanmar’s resistance has sparked massive gains, says USIP’s Priscilla Clapp: “In just a few weeks, the opposition forces have managed to dislodge the military from their bases and encampments” along many parts of the borders with China, Thailand, India and Bangladesh.

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.


Laura Coates: Joining us now is Priscilla Clapp, a senior adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Asia Society. She is a retired Minister Counselor in the U.S. Foreign Service and served as Chief of Mission and also the embassy in Burma. She joins us now Priscilla, welcome, and good morning. How are you?

Priscilla Clapp: Good morning, Laura. I'm fine.

Laura Coates: Thank you for joining me this morning. You know, there's been I've been seeing these reports about what's going on. I hope you can illuminate for our audience a little bit more about all the action we're seeing on Burma's northern border with China. What's happening?

Priscilla Clapp: Well, let me start with some background for those who don't follow Burma closely. In February 2021. Nearly three years ago, the military staged a coup against an elected government and jailed its top leaders and many thousands of people who protested the coup. Huge nonviolent demonstrations against the coup appeared immediately in major cities around the country, demanding a return to elected civilian government. When military and police began shooting and killing demonstrators, many young people decided to fight back and they fled across they fled to areas protected by long standing ethnic minority armies, who had been fighting against the military for decades. Over time, a large armed rebellion developed, incorporating both newly armed youth and the ethnic armies. For two and a half years this rebellion has been raging across the country, and the military has gradually lost control of more than half the territory.

Many outside observers concluded that the fighting was more or less a stalemate in which the military would eventually regain the upper hand. Then suddenly, over the last month, the armed groups around the country have coordinated an assault on the military from all sides, beginning with a major attack on military posts along the China border. Burma has a very long border with China. And just a few weeks, the opposition forces have managed to dislodge the military, from their bases, and encampments, not only along the China border, but also the Thai border, part of the Indian border and some areas of the Bangladesh border, as well as many points inside the country. The military seems to be in the midst of an existential crisis and has not been able to respond effectively other than to bomb civilian targets, much as we see Russia doing in Ukraine, soldiers are defecting to the opposition and in the hundreds now, the situation has become very fluid. And there is a good chance this will cause a shake up in the military leadership. At the very least, the opposition forces are demanding not only a return to elected government, but a new constitution that provides for a Federal Democratic government and the removal of the military from political power.

These are goals that the United States supports, but they still remain far in the future. The nationwide opposition to the coup is the first time in the country's history, that the majority and minority populations in the country have been able to coalesce into a joint rebelling against the military. In the process of the armed rebellion. They have more or less bonded on the battlefield. But it remains to be seen if they can carry this newfound alliance into a new government. If they actually succeed in toppling the military, there is still a long road ahead. Burma is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world and has been in the state of continuous internal conflict for decades, largely at the hands of a military intent on maintaining political control of the country. It will take years long national dialogue to reach popular consensus on a new form of civilian lead elected government that provides equal rights to the whole population and satisfies the concerns of the long suppressed ethnic minorities.

Laura Coates: I want to hold on. Thank you. Thank you so much for all of that background. I appreciate it. I wonder saying what the United States government is, is what is our role right now with respect to monitoring the situation is do we have a role here?

Priscilla Clapp: We have not been actively involved in the situation in Burma. It's pretty much closed off from the rest of the world. But we have been from a distance supporting the opposition, with advice, and it's been difficult to get material assistance into the country, but we have been in touch with them. Many of them are in exile. So, we actually meet with them here in Washington as well.

Laura Coates: And what is China, their government doing about this at this moment that we obviously met with the President last week, the President of the United States and Xi Jinping, there's obviously tension there is what is the role of China right now? And are we looking very closely at what they're doing?

Priscilla Clapp: Well, China seems to be falling out with the military in Burma, they more or less stepped back and allowed the, the sort of Chinese speaking tribes along the China border with Burma to take over the military posts. If they had not stepped back, they would not they would have leaned on these tribes not to do it, as they have in the past because they like to have stability on their border, but they have stepped back. And the border is now closed, virtually close to trade. Trade across the China border is very important part of the economy in both China and Burma.

Laura Coates: So, with that in mind, I mean, we have a sense happens. Yeah, with that in mind, I was wondering if it would be the importance of that border, what the impact of the lawlessness will be in what's going on, as during the follow along with that particular area. This is really important to get that background. Thank you, Priscilla Clapp, for joining us this morning. I appreciate it so much.

Priscilla Clapp: Thank you.

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