Myanmar: Coup, Blood, and Crisis

Although coups are not as common in today’s world as in the 20th century, coups in anti-democratic countries that have problems in their domestic politics have recently become a global problem. Throughout history, Myanmar is located in a geography where many civilizations have wanted to dominate. Even though nowadays, it is known as the poorest country in the world in terms of economic conditions, it is a country rich in natural resources. There are extremely valuable trees in the vast forests covering two-thirds of the country’s territories. Besides these, Myanmar also contains many rich natural resources such as oil, natural gas, silver, and more.

It also serves as a bridge between India and China in terms of its location and connects the Far East and Africa with neighboring countries such as India, China, and Japan, in addition, it has a strategic importance for Russia, the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA), too.

In socio-political terms, due to the nationalist rhetoric in the country after the British exploitation the minority and especially anti-Muslims increased, and after gaining its independence, it experienced a short-term “Republic” rule. However, after the coup organized by the Chief of General Staff Ne Win in 1962, Myanmar became the center of internal conflicts where all kinds of human rights and democracy violations were experienced under the junta rule, which is also known as the “Constitutional Dictatorship”. Anti-minority and especially anti-Muslim population from the past continued to increase, and in the 2015 elections, which can be called the first democratic elections, more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims could not vote.

In the elections held in November 2020, it has been alleged that the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), known as the party of the Army of Myanmar, lost to the Suu Kyi’s party of National League for Democracy (NLD), which was supported by the West, by a large margin. After the military seized power with a coup led by General Min Aung Hlaing on 1 February 2021, they detained many people, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and declared a state of emergency for a year. This situation drew the reaction of the democracy advocates in the country, and protests started on 6 February 2021.

Although the protesters were unarmed citizens, they were harshly treated by the military, and due to the armed attitude of the army, many people died.  In addition, General Min Aung Hlaing, who described 27 March 2021, as the “Armed Forces Day”, stated in his speech that he accused the protesters of causing an act of violence. On the same day, the death of 114 people as a result of the brutal fires of the Myanmar Army did not go unnoticed. The date in question has been the bloodiest day for democracy advocates. Following this incident, security forces opened fire on mourners for their losses on 28 March 2021. Due to the bloody events, the number of people who lost their lives and were injured in the country is increasing day by day.

The Myanmar Coup has received a very harsh response in the international arena. The Defense Ministers of the USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, and England strongly condemned this situation and demanded a return to democracy. However, the problem does not end here. Although due to the genocides in the Rohingya, it seems unlikely that Aung San Suu Kyi will come to power again, and the Myanmar Army, which is defended by China, remaining in the power is not a desired situation for the West.

The question of whether the competition between the USA and China will take the form of a “New Cold War” is a matter to be answered in the long-term. Since it is not yet clear which side the parties will take part in the conflict, it is not known whether Myanmar will play a central role or not in the conflict from now on. Washington’s desire to harm China economically with the sanctions imposed against Beijing raises the question of whether Beijing will retaliate against the United States by helping the Myanmar Army. However, contrary to what appears, due to its policy of not interfering with the “domestic affairs” of other countries, that China follows consistently, it is not correct to say that there will support for the coup. Moreover, the possibility of the internal turmoil and the coup in the country turning into a “civil war” may cause the United Nations (UN) to come to the region under the leadership of the USA. Undoubtedly, this is a clear threat to China’s interests.

The army, which has ruled for more than 60 years in Myanmar, has great authority over the country’s economy and resources. In this sense, China’s support of the army carries purely “economic” purposes. In addition, for China, Myanmar has life-saving importance against the USA’s Indo-Pacific policy that is blocking China’s roads. On the other hand, due to the privileges that are granted to China in terms of resource exploration and access to oil/gas reserves by the army, it expects China’s support against the sanctions that will come from the EU and the USA after the coup.

The arrival of another leader in Myanmar, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, who is supported by the West and will be supported, would hold threats to Beijing’s interests. Therefore, China will support the Myanmar Army as long as it does not find another leader with a shared common interest. On the other hand, it is remarkable that in the statement of the coup’s leader, he said that he would “protect democracy” during the celebrations, afterward he added that the protesters were the ones who actually caused “violence” and this situation would change if they stopped the protests. Despite this, because of the fact that the public does not believe them, it is anticipated that the protests will continue to take place. In this context, it should be taken into consideration that if the tension in the country increases and weapons are used mutually, there is a risk of the occurrence of a “civil war”.

As a result, it remains uncertain whether the Beijing administration will abandon its long-standing foreign policy understanding and interfere with Myanmar’s domestic affairs. China’s intervention in this way will create a new tension in the international agenda. However, China also does not want the Western sovereignty that would risk its authority in the region. At the same time, due to the increasing instability between the people and the military Beijing is also uncomfortable with the possibility of an UN-centered operation taking place. For this reason, it is possible to state that China will try to reduce the tension by applying a calm policy and cautiously misleading the US and the EU. Because China wants to prevent the West from coming to its borders and to continue its economic activities in a stable order. In the first place, this attitude in the recent Chinese foreign policies has already begun to make itself noticed.


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Gökçe Ayça AYAZ
Gökçe Ayça AYAZ
Gökçe Ayça AYAZ, 2020 yılında Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt Üniversitesi (AYBÜ), Siyasal Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler (İngilizce) Bölümü’nden mezun oldu. Aynı yıl AYBÜ, Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü, Uluslararası İlişkiler (İngilizce) Programı’nda yüksek lisans programına başlamış olup; halen devam etmektedir. Eğitim-Öğretim hayatı boyunca Asya-Pasifik üzerinde çalışmalarda bulunmuştur. İyi derece İngilizce bilgisinin yanı sıra Japonca ve Korece eğitimi almıştır. Ayrıca başlangıç seviyesinde Çince bilmektedir.