Does Myanmar Have a Democratic Future?

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Does Myanmar Have a Democratic Future?

DATE: 3pm, 3 March 2021

VENUE: Online

SPEAKERS: Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, Benedict Rogers, Gray Sergeant



Gray Sergeant  00:00

Well, good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for joining us at the Henry Jackson society. This afternoon. My name is Greg Sargent. I’m a research fellow here at the Asia studies centre. And like many of our events, we like to say that timely and pressing and this one certainly is, I think many of us were shocked and surprised by events in Myanmar last month, when the military effectively retook full control and imprisoned pro democracy activists and politicians. Since then, the the situation in Myanmar seems to have deteriorated much further, and there’s been reports of quite shocking police brutality and the use of force against protesters. And just as the military seem to be resolute in their determination to, to hold on to power, the people that Mayanmar seem determined not to go back to the bad old days of Junta rule. And I’m sure like me, many of you have seen the videos of elderly, elderly citizens banging away at their pots, but also heard the reports of younger activists who are connected to the internet connected not only with the outside world, but connected with each other instigating flash mobs and small protests, which have joined up as part of big, bigger mass movement, protests and strikes. So I’m really pleased that we’ve got two well informed guests here today to explain the situation in Myanmar in more detail, and also the international community’s response. Our first speaker is Wai Hnin Pwint Thon who’s from the UK Burma campaign. She’s the campaigns officer there. And she’s worked on the situation of country for many years, focusing on democracy and human rights. Her father is also a prominent pro democracy activists who spent many years in prison and has subsequently been re arrested in the latest coup. Ben Rogers, I’ve known for a number of years, when you’re involved in human rights work here in London, it’s very difficult not to know who Ben is. Ben is currently the CEO of Hong Kong watch. But prior to this, he was a Christian solidarity worldwide, where amongst many other countries, he focused on Myanmar. And he’s written several books about Burmese politics and, and the military rule there. So without further ado, I will pass on to Wai Hnin, who will be able to maybe shed some light on the domestic situation for us, you know, the state of play at the moment with the protesters and the situation they find themselves in. And I should say that you are more than welcome to all start adding questions into the q&a box. As after Wai Hnin, and Ben, both spoken, we’ll jump into a q&a session,


Wai Hnin Pwint Thon  03:02

First of all, I would like to say, thank you very much for the opportunity to share what’s going on inside the country. I like to be hopeful. And I like to be, you know, optimistic, but at the moment is quite hard. Because just today alone, you know, we’ve seen so many footages of people being shot and killed for peacefully protesting. So I’m not sure how many of us are aware of the background of the situation and why, you know, Burma is facing the current situation that we are in, so maybe I will give a few minutes for the background. So in November, last year, Burma had a nationwide election. And in that election. National League for Democracy won the landslide victory. So they son over 80% of the vote. So the military party party, they lost, you know, very badly. And, of course, the all the allegation and all the speculations about the coup started, won the head of the military Min Aung Hliang, suggested that the NLD parties, committed voters frauds and committed, you know, electoral fraud. So there were so many speculations around that. So for people who are familiar with this situation inside the country, who are familiar with the politics, we were trying to come up with so many analysis on how or why and you know, whether the coup would could happen. But, of course, if Burma had, if you look at the you know, the constitution and if you look at the political system in the country, the Burmese army had been in the better, you know, the best position they had ever been in the last 20 years because, according to the 2008 constitution, it’s give them You know, 25% of the seats in the parliament, and also it gives them you know, they control of a very important ministers inside the country, and they have, they had everything they needed. So. So we were thinking, hoping that you know, a coup wouldn’t happen. And then, of course, on first of February, Min Aung Hliang and his armies stage a coup. And so it, you know, it came down to the analysis that is all purely because of Min Aung Hliang and his personal protection and ambition, because he is supposed to retire in July this year, and to retire after retirement, he has no condition to plan for his, you know, wealth. And also he is the most wanted person in the country for war crimes and crimes against humanity in ethnic area. So, he is, you know, he has to protect himself protected his wealth. So, because of his personal ambition, ambition, and a few other, you know, people in the military and also the whole military, we are in the situation that we are in. So for on first of February, they arrested Aung Saan Suu Kyi and other NLD elected members, and peers, and also the electorate, they arrested a few, you know, civil society activists, other activists, and also Buddhist monks as well. So my dad was one of the people who was arrested early in the morning on the first of February, and since then, we have no idea where he is, or, you know, his condition. And of course, I, as a family member, I know about one and, you know, where he, you know, when he was taken, but there are so many people that we don’t know, there are so many people, you know, the figure is now 1200, or over 1200, according to the assistant Association for political prisoners, but the numbers keep growing about people who are being arrested. And, you know, most of them, they haven’t been charged, or they haven’t been, you know, family members are not being told where they’re being detained. So it’s a heartbreaking situation. And as we might have seen, you know, the protests inside the country, you know, they keep growing and growing and the police brutality. You know, for the first few days, police brutality and crackdown on protesters started in other parts of the cities but they  were shooting live rounds, they were killing people, they were arresting people. And but protesters, you know, they keep coming out on the street, they’re very determined for. So for generation, like myself, we are very determined that we don’t want to live under another dictatorship. And also for younger generation, they don’t want to live under another, you know, dictatorship. So we are, we are very determined, and it’s very good to see the strength on the ground, but also, it’s very heartbreaking and devastating to see the mass arrest. And also, you know, today they are shooting people even you know, what, there was one footage I was watching the guy was just arrested, and he was going peacefully with the police and for no reason the police shot him. So, you know, there are so many cases like that, and everyday is overwhelming to hear from activists saying, you know, we had they have to go and hide in different places to make sure they are safe so that they can lead another protest again, and you know, they can keep going out on the street. And today, in Myitkyina 46 people were arrested and most of them that like 39 of them are women. And there are so many cases like that. In Mandala, you know I’ve been following cases on that in Mandalay 50 teenagers, they just came out of high school, they just finished high school, they’re peacefully protesting on the streets calling for the end of dictatorship and they were arrested and in jail, and they have been charged with incitement for speaking out against the military coup. So this is, you know, these situations are happening. And of course, one of the activists yesterday he was arrested on first of February as well and the family member didn’t know any any information about him and didn’t know where he was. And yesterday, they found out that he had been sent to Insein prison in Yangon and he had been he has been charged for violating a veto, you know, like a more to the safety law. So, you know, they are finding everything every law that they can to arrest and keep these activists in jail. So if you look at Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint cases, well, they were talking about, you know, voter frauds, and there were so many allegations about that, that by the time they charge Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint it has nothing to do with the voting system or it has nothing to do with the election. You know, they had been charged for violating COVID safety laws and also owning a walkie talkie. So, you know, all those repressive laws inside the country, unfortunately, are still there. So they have been using that for past you know, many years and they have that handbook and they can keep charging activists you know, with anything they want. And in ethnic area, you know, a situation is devastating as well, you know, people are being arrested, and four, five youth who were arrested we still have no idea where they are and we have no news we have no way of getting information out of the area as well because of the internet you know, cut and also the limited you know, restrictions on internet as well so I might sound like it you know, all these things are depressing. And and also you know, one they are cracking down on protesters, they’re using special army battalion who are you know, they’re famous for their war crimes and crime against humanity, humanity against the ethnic minorities in Rakhine State and then Kachin state, so they you could see their presence going around in Yangon and Mandalay area shooting and killing people. So just today, it’s not cracking down on protesters anymore, they’re just purely killing people. They’re, you know, shooting people in the back, and, and also torturing, beating and killing, medical, you know, volunteers who are trying to help the protesters. So all these situations are happening. And, of course, you know, when we are the international community, people I’m saying, from the first of February, you know, I had been on several interviews with different news channel and I had said, that is reassuring that the international community is watching and monitoring the situation. And I had said that it, you know, I hope the situation wouldn’t escalate to the situation that we are in now, because of the, you know, monitoring from the international community. But it’s been over a month now, and the situation is keep on going. And they keep getting worse. And all, of course, to begin with. It’s encouraging to get the statement from the UN and the international community to say, we are monitoring the situation we are watching, and we condemn their military coup, and we condemn the violence against the peaceful protesters, but it’s not enough. You know, while they are writing another statement, the military is killing more people. So just today alone, I think, the figure I have is 18. And I’m sure at the end of the day, when we actually confirm the figure, it will be more than that. So when they are writing, and when they are, you know, condemning the military and their usage of violence against the protesters, people are dying. But if I can try and find the hope out of the whole situation, then it’s, you know, it’s very encouraging to see the younger generation  getting involved and very determined leading the movement and very determined that they don’t want to live under the dictatorship. And it’s very encouraging to see the unity and strength with people inside the country, you know, joining forces with ethnic people calling for, you know, not only the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all the other political prisoners, but also calling for the end of military dictatorship to abolish the 2008 constitution, eventually, when we you know, when we have that, and also to call for the, to establish the federal Democratic Union where you know, equality and rights for all the ethnic minorities are guaranteed. So it is encouraging to see that unity and strength coming out of the country. And I like to hope that, you know, one day we will achieve the federal democracy that we need, and we want, but of course, we also need the help the actual effective help from the international community, rather than a statement rather than another, you know, letter condemning the situation. So people inside the country are doing whatever they can there, you know, make shift with bulletproof vests and they are protecting themselves. They are risking their lives going out on the streets, protesting every day, not knowing whether they will be shot, killed or, you know, sleeping at night, not knowing they will be in the military will raid their house and arrest them. So they’re risking their lives. And the international community need to do their part. So I will stop now. And before I go on longer, thank you.


Gray Sergeant  15:29

Thank you. And I’m sure Ben will also come on to the international community’s response as well, which has been mixed. And as you say, slow at times. But I know Ben is also going to talk about the situation for ethnic minorities in Myanmar and religious freedom as well, in light of the crackdown, just to remind you that there is a q&a box below if you’d like to start getting your questions in now we can then select a couple. For when after Ben has spoken.


Benedict Rogers  16:00

Thank you very much. Great. Let me start by saying it’s a privilege to speak at the Henry Jackson Society, again. I’ve had the opportunity a number of times in the past, and I’m always grateful for your work. And it’s also a privilege to speak alongside Wai Hnin who I’ve known for many years and worked work closely together with I’ve worked on Myanmar or Burma for for over 20 years, visited the country more than at its borders more than 50 times. And I have the dubious distinction of having been deported from from Burma, not once but twice in the past. And as you mentioned, Gray I’ve written a number of books, including a biography of the previous military dictator, General Than Shwe, which was what led to my deportation. And I had hoped that that book was a historical book, a book about the past military regimes I but tragically, it’s now become, once again, a current affairs book. In the days leading up to the coup, the there were quite a number of rumours about the possibility of a coup. I had a call three days before the coup with a well known figure in the country, who warned me that it was a possibility. But I think most of us still didn’t think that it would actually happen because as Wai Hnin has outlined very well, the military already had real significant power. And there was really no need in terms of the military’s interests to do this. Um, and I entirely agree with Wai Hnin that this is all about general minimalise personal ambitions to be president and his conclusion that if he couldn’t become president, through the ballot box, and he was obviously disappointed by the results in November, if he couldn’t win through the ballot, he would take the presidency through the bullet instead. But this coup is an absolute tragedy for the country. And the brutal crackdown that Wai Hnin also outlined, as well as the courageous and creative and extraordinary demonstrations. This is a this is a catastrophic time for Burma or Myanmar, General Min Aung Hlai has set the country back more than a decade, undoing 10 years of albeit certainly very fragile, faltering, very, very imperfect, but nonetheless, some trajectory of of political change over the last 10 years. I remember 10 years ago, nine or 10 years ago, when the so called reform process began, we did see some increased space for civil society, for the media. And I myself spent much of the time in the last 10 years. Despite having previously been deported from the country, I was able to go back in and work with civil society in the country, although it’s fair to say that in the last few years, that space became more restricted again, but we did see two elections in 2015 and 2020, which gave the people a genuine democratic say at the ballot box and gave Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy an overwhelming majority in both cases. And we saw from from 2016 until the first of February, a civilian led democratically elected government In which the military controls some very significant positions, but nevertheless, there was this fragile quasi democracy developing. Of course, we should also remember, though, that in the last 10 years, we also saw continued horrific human rights violations, particularly against ethnic and religious minorities. And I’ll come on to that, in a moment, not least the genocide of Rohingyas. So all of that raises three questions. Why the coup? What’s the impact of it? And I’ll apply that particularly to the ethnic and religious situation, and what should the international community do? Well, Wai Hnin’s already asked answered the first question why it is tos about minimalize personal ambitions. What’s the impact? It’s huge for human rights. Again, Wai Hnin has described the crackdown on the protesters and the the scenes of, of live ammunition on the streets, which of course we’ve seen in the past. It’s history repeating itself. We saw it in 1988, in 1996, in 2007, but they were scenes that I hope never to see again in the country. And the implications for Burma’s ethnic and religious minorities, I think are particularly grave. The military has long weaponized religion. And already in in the last few weeks, a number of Buddhist monks who have been critical of the regime and also critical of the extremist Buddhist nationalist agenda that the regime has has really fueled over recent years have been arrested. And just in the last few days a church was raided and 13 people in that church were were arrested. Um, and so it’s very likely that we will see further religious intolerance and violations of religious freedom, intensifying the the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, said so the day after the coup, their Vice Chair said these words, “given the history of brutal atrocities by the military, our fear is that violence could quickly escalate especially towards ethnic and religious religious communities.” And an another member of that same commission said “we fear for the safety of the remaining Rohingya Muslims and Christians in Burma who are discriminated against and and targeted by the military.” And then in the ethnic states. And it’s worth it’s worth saying that the ethnic the country’s ethnic nationalities, as they like to be known, constitute about 40% of the population. So, Burma, Myanmar is a is a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-religious country with with a majority Burman Buddhist population, but nevertheless, nevertheless significant ethnic groups and they, in various forms over the last 70 or more years since Burma’s independence have faced civil war and military offensives from the Burma army. They’ve been struggling for autonomy and human rights in a for what they want it which is a federal system for the country over the last decades in not throughout the country, but certainly in some places. ceasefires between the military and the ethnic armed groups had been agreed. Those ceasefires were very fragile, and they certainly didn’t result in the respect for human rights that the ethnic groups seek. Nevertheless, there was at least an absence of, of conflicts in certain areas. And now we see, even since the coup, an escalation in military offensives in the ethnic areas in Karen state, over 7000 people have been displaced. And in Kachin state, where, in recent years, over 100,000 people have been displaced, humanitarian access is constrained, and this is a particular concern that the military is building up its presence in those areas, but as a consequence blocking humanitarian access. One local NGO sent a statement in which they said that in some of the camps for internally displaced people, the food support only covered the month of January and transportation to provide food to the internally displaced people, particularly in the non government controlled areas is is a major concern and challenge. So to come to my third question, what do we do about this? Well, I think firstly, there is a need to, for the international community to apply really robust, but targeted sanctions against the military, not just the kind of sanctions that we have seen from the UK already, which are sanctions against individual generals. Those sanctions are better than nothing in the sense that they send a statement, but they are largely symbolic, because they’re they they effectively ban the generals from coming to the UK. So in effect, it’s a holiday ban, but the generals don’t tend to come to the UK on on holiday anyway. So it’s not very effective. What we need is targeted sanctions against the militaries enterprises, not against the whole country. And we should target them as carefully as possible so that they hit the military and don’t hurt the people, but sanctions against the military enterprises. We need to see a global arms embargo. And I hope that Britain and other like minded countries will lead the way and build up as many countries as possible to support an arms embargo. Of course, there’ll be certain countries that will never support that. But the more countries that do, even if they’re countries that don’t actually in practice supply arms, the more countries calling for it, that will shame those countries that that do, we need to see much stronger diplomatic leadership in this crisis, I think the UN Secretary General should be playing a much more active part. And there is in addition to the kind of pressure that I’ve outlined, there is a place certainly for a diplomatic approach as well. And I think if the UN Secretary General could lead a high level delegation, either to the country, if possible, or at least to the region, to try to build up diplomatic pressure on the military. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN has an important role to play as well. And I personally think that they should look at suspending Burma from their membership because it is not represented by a legitimate government. There’s a case at the International Court of Justice already underway, filed by The Gambia on charges of genocide, and I think more countries should join that that case, as part of putting pressure on the military. And then finally, there is a real need for humanitarian aid to be delivered cross border so that those who are internally displaced in the ethnic states can receive assistance from across the border in Thailand, and and its other borders, since that aid can’t reach them from in country. I just close with some final thoughts. And I think the whole question of recognition is really important that we that we don’t recognise this military regime, and we don’t legitimise it. And there are two representatives now in place, who I think the international community should find ways to recognise and work with. Firstly, a body has been set up by the elected members of parliament who were elected last November, a committee representing the elected parliament, and they have appointed someone who actually is a longtime friend of mine and of Wai Hnins. An amazing doctor by background Dr. Sasa who managed to escape from the country and they have appointed Dr. Sasa as their special envoy to the United Nations. And I would encourage the international community to engage with him and to work with him to find a way forward. But also many of you watching this will have seen the extraordinary speech last Friday by Myanmar’s current ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, where he told the United Nations and we were expecting him to defend the military because that’s what we was expected of him. But instead, he tore up his script from the military. And he condemned the coup in the strongest possible terms. And he appealed to the world. He said these words “we need further stronger possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop them oppressing innocent people and to return this state power to the people and restore democracy.” Of course, he was immediately sacked by the military. Presumably the military will send a new ambassador to the UN. But I hope that the UN will not recognise that new ambassador currently, Kyaw Moe Tun is still technically recognised with credentials. And I hope that the international community will deal with him and with Dr. Sasa and not whoever the military send, I leave you with these final words from the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Burma, Tom Andrews, who said and this really summarises my my message, he said, “without concerted coordinated international action, to support the people of Myanmar, in their time of greatest need, the nightmare in Myanmar that is unfolding before our eyes will get even worse, the world must act as the internet as the military junta ratchets up its violence against the people, it is imperative that the international community ratchet up its response.” Thank you very much.


Gray Sergeant  31:11

Thank you very much, Ben. And I see we’ve already got a couple of questions in so perhaps if we take them in groups of three or so and either are read out some of the anonymous questions, just remind you, you can add your questions in the q&a box. And we’ll ask you to, to read them out. Or you can post anonymously and put them to the speakers. So perhaps if we could go to Alan Evans first, please.


Alun Evans  31:39

Aung San Suu Kyi was a brave and resolute figure when under house arrest, but in government, sadly, has only demonstrated incompetence, through lack of experience in government and administration. Assuming that the military climb down and restore the previous limited democratic rule? Is there a commanding figure in the NLD with suitable experience? Who could take over from our Aung San Suu Kyi.


Gray Sergeant  32:25

Thank you all. And we’ll go to a Euan Grant. Next, please.


Wai Hnin Pwint Thon  32:53

Yeah. My question is very quick. Is the international community, perhaps the less geopolitically savvy parts of the international community, very naive about the crucial role of China? I mean, China has blocked certain resolutions in the Security Council which is, which was as obvious as the fact that it gets cold in winter. So that’s the question. And the follow up, obviously, is what can be done, which I suspect is going to be difficult and frankly, rather limited. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried. Thank you.


Gray Sergeant  33:38

And that links to one of the questions that we’d asked about China’s response, which I’m sure our panellists can update us about. And there’s a question focusing on the domestic angle, about the tactics of the younger generation. Is there is their involvement in protest is a relatively new thing, or has that been the case in the past that and are they using different tactics than the older generation? So perhaps, if we could take them three, and then we will go into some more afterwards?


Wai Hnin Pwint Thon  34:18

Let me start with the question about Aung San Suu Kyi, and then another figure in the NLD. So, you know, Aung San Suu Kyi has been or had been a mean, well, let’s say has been a very prominent figure in Burmese politics. And a lot of people, you know, used to look up to her as the figure of human rights and democracy in the country and still inside the country. A lot of people look up for her. But what we need to remember is, like Ben mentioned before Burma is a multi ethnic, multi religion country and we have a lot of other leaders and Although they might not be internationally known Aung San Suu Kyi, but just look at Dr Sasa, you know, he is a prominent and very talented leader in, in our, you know, in my country. So there are so many talented other leader for NLD. At the moment, we don’t see any other figure as famous and as popular as Aung San Suu Kyi , but we need to look away just from, you know, we can’t just focus on one particular party and one National League for Democracy, if we really want to achieve a proper, genuine democracy and genuine federal democracy, we need to look at the role of ethnic minorities and ethnic minorities leaders as well. So I don’t know whether it answered the question. And of course, after the you know, under the Aung San Suu Kyi government, there were a lot of problems and a lot of misunderstanding that she made with the ethnic minorities as well. So we have a lot of internal problems as well. So we need to if we want to move forward to a genuine democracy, we need to look at other leaders, especially particularly ethnic minorities, leaders as well. So for youth participation, in, you know, in Burma, every time when we have a mass demonstration, mass uprising, it’s been led by youth . So, you know, the main thing we might remember is the 1988. They were led by a student leaders and in 2007, again, they will lead by student leaders and now we see even younger generation than that, and the tactics are different because, of course, it’s great to have the social media. So in terms of organising and in terms of, you know, spreading information is much quicker than we had in the past. And and also this is an you know, leaderless movement, there is no particular individual leader that they are looking out for this, this is all collectively share responsibility and collectively share organising. So it’s, it’s a much more encouraging thing to see. Because, you know, the military has a tactic of selecting the few leader and arrest them. So you know, it now that this is a leaderless movement, so it will continue going on, even, you know, we’ve seen that it’s been over a month, people keep getting arrested, but protests keep on going. So I can say that this is a much more effective way of organising protests.


Gray Sergeant  37:51

Thank you, Ben, would you like to respond to any of those questions? Yes, certainly. Firstly, I agree very much with what Wai Hnin has said, and I think that on the question of leadership, potentially, it’s early days yet but potentially one. one bit of good news or silver lining to this terrible situation, is that it does appear to have brought the whole country together. And you see the same protests among Kachin or Karen or other ethnic groups. And even most interestingly, Rohingyas despite the way they have been so appallingly treated and faced a genocide. They’ve been joining the protests against the coup. And if that can be developed into a greater sense of, of unity. There have been anecdotally is a few examples. I mean, we need more but a few examples of of, of activists who in the past said some very terrible things, really racist things about the Rohingyas who have actually apologised. And I even today had a message from a Buddhist monk saying to me, I was wrong about the Rohingyas. And so if that sort of thing is happening, and younger, a younger generation of leaders, who we may not be able to identify immediately, but who are emerging from across the different communities, that that would be a very good thing on the question of China. Um, yes. I mean, I think definitely, there’s quite a lot of naivety and and mis judgement over over China. Um, I can’t say definitively that what China’s role in the coup has been, except to say that Min Aung Hliang met with the Chinese Foreign Minister just a few weeks before the coup, and I think it’s extremely unlikely that he would have gone ahead with the coup if he hadn’t had some reassurance from China. But they wouldn’t be against it. They may or may not have instigated it, but they certainly have provided cover for it. The Chinese media describe the coup as a, as a major Cabinet reshuffle, which, which, if it wasn’t such a tragic situation, that would be quite a comical remark. Um, and, of course, they vetoed any real action at the Security Council. But I think there are things that can be done, as I outlined in my remarks. And a lot of the things that can be done can be done without China. Or even if they can’t be done. Without China, they we could be pushing them in order to expose further, China’s complicity with it. So on questions like global arms embargo, or the diplomatic recognition of issues of recognition, the more the democratic world stand together, the more that exposes China’s position, so we shouldn’t let China’s complicity with this stop us from doing things we should we should be exposing it. Thank you, Ben. And I, I’ve seen that the the whole China factor hasn’t gone unnoticed in Myanmar itself. And while there might not be any evidence for China link, but certainly there’s a lot of resentment inside the country towards China. And justifiably so given that they have slowed down the pressure process at the UN Security Council. So to watch China closely, perhaps we should go to David next.


David Stevenson  41:46

Lovely, thank you. One, what’s the reaction to the Thai military? I’m assuming the Thai military has pretty close links to the Myanmar military. And second, just picking up on that China point. I’ve always been under the under the view that the Myanmar military had a cagey relationship with the Chinese. And we’re not particularly keen to see Myanmar turned into a Chinese colony. Especially with all the Belt and Road initiatives. Is that relationship more quickly than we think with China? Thank you.


Gray Sergeant  42:23

Thank you, David, an interesting question. Interesting, interesting. Two questions there. And Kathleen, if you could turn to you next. Hi, Kathleen.


Kathleen Taylor  42:36

Yes. I just wondered what motivates the army to stay loyal to the general. So I mean, the whole coup depends on the army. So is there any prospect that they might actually join the rebellion at some stage?


Gray Sergeant  42:53

Thank you, Kathleen. And a pertinent question, given what you said both said earlier about it being about the protection of, of one individual, how much loyalty he has amongst amongst the rank and file. And perhaps going off from that I, one of the questions that I was asked by one of our audience members beforehand was, you know, the prospect for reconciliation? You know, it does seem like there’s a complete loggerhead you know, the the, the military was in power had quite a lot of influence in the current makeup. And they’ve kind of overreached to take it all. But how do you actually draw back from that situation and come to some sort of arrangement? Or is it a case that one side has the fault? So perhaps, if you could answer any of them three questions, that’d be great. Wai, we will start off with you.


Wai Hnin Pwint Thon  43:45

So maybe I’ll take the so just to touch a little bit on the China situation, so they have the military in Burma, they had their very, you know, cosy with  China. So they have a lot of projects on the ground, especially particularly in ethnic area, you know, building dams, removing local people forcibly so that they can build down. So there are a lot of business interest and also investment interest with China as well. And we have a lot of, you know, since the start of the coup, we had a lot of news, saying that China is providing technical assistance to the Burmese military in order to do that, you know, internet shut down all the things that they need. So they have a very cosy relationship with the China that’s for sure. And Ben can elaborate on that a bit more. And for the Army’s being loyal to the general. So we have seen a few, you know, stat of the start of the demonstration and stuff. So we have seen a few soldiers joining the civil disobedience movement. And after about a day, we have no idea where they are. No, we haven’t, you know, we haven’t heard about the allegation or what happened to them. And also there was a, you know, there were 10 or 11 soldiers defecting to the Karen armed group, so it is on a small scales is happening, but in terms of large scale, with actual, you know, police and armies, killing and cracking down on people. Although I like to be hopeful, I don’t see any hope on that. And of course, it’s come down to the individual Min Aung Hliang ambition, truth, but there is a collective group of people in his circle who are benefiting from this as well. And when you’re close to the army, all those soldiers on the ground, they might have, they have no money, and they, you know, they they’re surviving on very little wages. But if they, I think the punishment is severe if you leave the army, and so there is a fear for that, as well. And for I think, to move on in the future, we need to hold those people accountable, you know, for reconciliation, without accountability, we can’t achieve peace and reconciliation. So they can’t have impunity for what they’ve done in the past in the ethnic area, and also, what they are doing now. I mean, okay, I’ve talked about the protests, mainly across the country. But what I didn’t mention is that in ethnic area, the fighting is still going on. The armies are still attacking ethnic minorities in Karen state, they’re shelling, you know, villages every day, and they’re attacking people in the Kachin state. So, you know, not only they’re oppressing people protesting peacefully inside the country, you know, in the city, they’re also attacking ethnic minorities, so we can’t move on, or even talk about reconciliation without accountability. But, yeah, Ben we will talk more about that.


Gray Sergeant  47:03

So very briefly, on the question of the Thai, military, I don’t have any special insights into the Thai military. But certainly, I can say that, it doesn’t help the fact that Thailand had its own coup a few years ago, and that it’s a, it’s a military regime in Thailand. And I’m sure the links between the two are, are close. And that will presumably have potentially some effect in how ASEAN responds and currently, ASEAN’s response has been very, very weak, um, on the question of, of China, and the military, his relationship with China, I totally agree with Wai Hnin although i think i think the person who asked the question is correct in saying that, in a sense, it’s a sort of relationship of convenience. The military in Burma, relies on China, um, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s always necessarily a warm relationship. And what’s interesting is that during Aung San Suu Kyi’s period, in government, she developed what seemed to be quite a close relationship with with China. So I think from China’s point of view, they they don’t necessarily take a side, they will go with whichever side is in power. And they’ve transferred their allegiance back to the military as soon as they came into power. And what China wants is stability and a country that it can benefit from economically. I think it’s true that one of the driving forces behind the political reforms a decade ago, was the fact that the former generals who were leading a supposedly civilian government, but they were generals who just got out of their uniforms and put on business suits. And they, they didn’t want Myanmar, Burma to be any longer kind of satellite of China. They wanted better relations with the West, they knew that in order to achieve that, and to get sanctions lifted, they had to make some political changes. And that’s, I think, one of the factors behind that. So the irony is they’ve reversed all that now. ended up back back in China’s pocket. On the question of the army I again, I agree with Wai Hnin we’ve seen reports of both soldiers and police in a relatively small numbers, but but its welcome, joining the protesters. But I think, I think I think the only way to really get the military to stop following orders would be if there’s really sustained, targeted pressure on military interests, particularly military enterprises, that makes life uncomfortable for some of the other generals, some of the other senior officers so that they begin to think actually, we’re losing our economic interests here. We’re, we’re being hurt in our pockets, all for the sake of supporting one man’s ambitions. And if that happens, it’s it’s not inconceivable that we may start to see more of a split but for the time being for the reasons Wai Hnin’s outlined, it, it doesn’t look like that’s happening. Thank you, Ben. And an interesting point you’ve raised about the buying that the the Junta’s put itself in it kind of liberalised to get this investment from the outside world, but by taking the action they have, they must have learned that they will be open themselves up to sanctions and, and making themselves more dependent on China who they may or may not have quite a fractious relationship with anyway, I think we’ve probably got time for for two more questions. If I could ask Stephen, Stephen, to ask his question, please.


Stephen Ng  51:19

I think the Myanmar protests at a lot of resemblance to the Hong Kong protests. And we probably will finish up the China you behind all this strategy in order to build this up as a new world order under the One Belt, One Road and the mission of the Chinese communists. So what the new world or the Western world so do in a more conceptive and permitted way to try to counteract this. Thank you.


Gray Sergeant  51:54

Thank you, Steven, a bit of a bigger picture about action on China and its influence through one belt one road. And one more question from Julia Bicknell, something where the ambassador role been raised?


Julia Bicknell  52:07

Hello? Yes, I too, am a fan of Dr. Sasa who I met through Ben. But if the current Myanmar ambassador still keeps his credentials, and I know there’s some controversy about whether he is officially best or not, how much can un representatives of other countries really achieve with Dr. Sasa on behalf of the protesters coalition?


Gray Sergeant  52:32

Thank you, Julia. And I think perhaps following on from Stephens observation about reflecting the events we’ve seen in Hong Kong and the previous motion of Thailand. While ASEAN and the governments in the region might be orphaned on to their interference instability, there is kind of a young protest movement going on in Thailand, as well as other countries. Just wondering how linked up young people that may MRR are to these networks, and how much that kind of helps them share tactics and encourages them and boosts them. And I think we’ve briefly touched on maybe perhaps some of the pressure points, but you know, that the not just for the soldiers, the Junta itself, what kind of are the weaknesses that the international community impressed, but I suppose, also, perhaps these incentives, it could certainly offer to get them to draw back. Because unfortunately, it might be a case of carrot as much as stick if we hope to see progress. So perhaps if you could be could finish up on them questions, that would be great.


Wai Hnin Pwint Thon  53:36

I will just quickly talk about the coordination with the other, you know, people in the UK and other parts of the world. So there is a Milk Tea Alliance. So young people in, in ASEAN or Hong Kong, or you know, in Burma, they’re all sharing their tactics. And Hong Kong protesters are sharing their, you know, protest handbook with the people inside the country, how to protect yourself in case of tear gas and stuff. So is there is a coordination going on between young people and is encouraging, encouraging things you see, and also, you know, of course, for when we asked about the international action is, we might not see the results right away. But when it comes to, we’ve been asking for EU and the international community to sanctions and military companies. But if people inside the country are already boycotting military products, they are saying we are not buying all these products and they are going around to the shop to raise awareness about it. So most of the shopping younger are already deciding not to sell any military products. So they are doing what they can and we are asking the international community to follow that. So I will for when it comes to Hong Kong, and Dr Sasa I think Ben would be the best to answer.


Gray Sergeant  54:57

Well, thank you. I yeah, I mean I think in terms of the links between the the movement in Burma and Hong Kong, I’ve been very encouraged both by the, the sort of formal links like the Milk Tea Alliance, but also at an individual level, I’ve had quite a number of requests from Burmese friends asking me to put them in touch with Hong Kong activists to kind of learn from each other and share experiences. And so I have been doing that in a quiet and discreet way. And in fact, I co authored a piece in the independen a few weeks ago with Nathan law, one of the most high profile Hong Kong, now exiled activists, and I know Ted Hui who was a Hong Kong legislator, and he also had to escape into exile has been also taking a very close interest in the situation in Burma. So I’m really encouraged by those things. In terms of the bigger picture of what we do about China and I know you have had a whole other events on that. But I think clearly, the situation in Burma, Myanmar plays into that, that wider conversation about the need really to rethink our approach to relations with China and not the people of China, but the Chinese Communist Party regime. And I think this is yet another reason we’ve seen what they’ve done in Hong Kong, we see what they’re doing to the Uyghurs. And their role at the United Nations and elsewhere in, in blocking action in cases such as gamma is ought to be a wake up call so. So definitely, I think I’ve called many times for a wholesale review of policy towards China. And this is another dimension of that. Just Finally, on the question of the ambassador, I mean, I think it would be very interesting if we could end up in a situation where there are potentially three representatives of of of Burma to the United Nations, the current Ambassador who’s still in place at the moment, Dr. Sasa is an envoy of the parliamentarians and whoever the military send out as as the current ambassadors replacement. I certainly hope, as I said earlier, that the whoever the military send out is not recognised or accredited. And I don’t think that Dr. Sasa’s appointments, even though he probably won’t have an official accreditation at the UN, I don’t think that prevents him in any way from engaging as a representative of the elected parliamentarians with UN member states. And briefing them briefing UN Special Rapporteurs is indeed, that’s already taking place. And so it may happen at a more private level. And it may not he may not be able to actually sit in the General Assembly, but I think he can certainly interact with member states and UN officials. And he is already doing that. And I hope there will be more of that. And I hope that he and the current ambassador in New York will be able to work together because the more the more united however diverse it is, the more united the movement can be the better. Thank you, Ben, and you’ve taken us right up to the hour. So I’m afraid we can have to end here. But thank you very much for your for your interesting questions. And I hope you found this session useful. You know, like, like many of these sessions, we had one in Thailand, the other week, we get to the end, and we can feel slightly depressed because of the situation going on there. And people in Thailand are also being obviously locked up for expressing themselves and, and pushing for democracy. But perhaps we haven’t seen quite the sheer level of brutality there, that we have seen in Myanmar over the past couple of weeks. So, like Wai Hnin says we can, we can only be hopeful and there are reasons to be optimistic, given the determination of of the people there, and particularly to discuss the young people and and and the efforts of many across the international community, a government and also a civil society level. So we shall certainly be following the events here in Myanmar, very closely here at the Jackson society and I’m sure in the future, we’ll have an event to follow up on this. So I’ve just before we end, I would like to thank Wai Hnin and Ben for their time and for sharing their expertise. And I hope you’ll join us at the Henry Jackson society’s Asia study centre sometime in the future. Thank you



Lost your password?

Not a member? Please click here