United World Project


Myanmar on the brink, and the responsibility of Russia and China

13 August 2021   |   Myanmar, Covid-19, Città Nuova
By George Ritinsky

The situation in Myanmar is dramatic. Covid infections are high and untreated. The military hunt down citizens by bombing their homes. Eighteen million people are at risk of starvation. What are foreign interests in this country?

Whenever a revolt or a war is about to break out in a country, one of the first things to disappear are the cargo containers. When international transport companies, such as Maersk, MSC, or OOCL sense that the situation is worsening in a country, they stop sending containers to that country, for one simple reason: theft.

A container is worth around $3,800.00, and stealing them is quite easy. They are also used to make homes and shelters. So, it is best to keep them in warehouses away from thieves. Two months ago they warned me: “There are no containers to ship goods from Yangon. That means that the situation in Myanmar is about to precipitate.” And so it was: From February 1st until today there have been more than 900 deaths in Myanmar among people demonstrating against the military regime, the regime that has literally stolen power from the country. Hundreds and thousands of people are currently dispersed in the forests in the north of the country to escape the Tatmadaw (the army that supports the regime), which did not hesitate to bomb with powerful Russian-made war helicopters and tanks – also Russian technology – but also to bomb the houses of the local the population while the people were inside.

Horrendous, but true. Citizens were driven from their homes by cannon and mortar shots. This is Myanmar today. Not to mention that drugs like aspirin and paracetamol – we are sent a load during these days – are scarce or totally unavailable. And there is no oxygen for Covid patients, because the military of the regime not only requisition the cylinders they find in medical centers and hospitals, but also close the plants for the production of oxygen. And they arrest doctors who protested the coup through civil disobedience. Officially, this was to punish the enemies of the State and to avoid  black market sales of drugs and oxygen which is so essential to tackling the Covid epidemic. We are talking about 4 thousand positives out of 10 thousand Covid tests that were carried out last week. Mind-boggling numbers. . .

I have friends in Myanmar. Some of them tested positive and were turned away by hospitals, because of a lack of beds, medicines and oxygen. No isolation, just sent home. Fortunately, the virus wasn’t strong, and they got away with a long quarantine. They’re doing better now.

But thousands of people die every day, even on the streets, as in Bangkok. Buddhist temples are no longer able to cremate all the bodies. Many young people have fled from Yangon and, in recent months, have headed north, towards the Kachin territories and also towards the Karen territory near the border with Thailand. There is daily fighting against the Kachin by the Tatmada, and this worries the Chinese.

A significant news report from the CNA  news channel in Singapore has reported that the Chinese province of Yunnan has donated 10,000 vaccines against Covid to the Kachin Independent Army (KAI). The border between Myanmar and China is “very porous” and infections arriving from the south have been on the rise since June. But this is not the only problem for China. A bad image of the country is spreading among the people of Myanmar, who are boycotting Chinese products and factories.

China is considered by the Burmese people, to be the main supporter of the regime, also due to the numerous infrastructure projects (dams, ports and industrial complexes) that are in the process of being built in Myanmar. According to many experts in the region, however, the current situation in Myanmar does not favor Beijing’s interests. With Chinese factories burned or boycotted by Burmese workers; with hundreds of millions of dollars previously invested (before the coup) and currently blocked by the war, it is difficult to see anything to be gained from China and its support for the military regime.

Russia, Myanmar’s most important military partner for decades, seems much more interested in supporting the regime. For example, an agreement was signed on July 21st between the head of Rosoboronexport (Russian defense export) and the Burmese military. Training of Tatmadaw troops in Russia also continues, and General Min Aung Hlaing was in Moscow to meet Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Strengthened by this important ally, Min Aung Hlaing canceled the November 2020 elections in which Aun San Suu Kyi and his party were swept away with a stroke of the pen.

But there is also the threat of a humanitarian catastrophe in Myanmar. The United Nations has declared that at least 18 million Burmese will soon be at risk of hunger. In addition to the coup, the revolution, the civil war and Covid, the rains and floods will soon hit as well. All that remains is to pray, asking that the commitment of many people can open new paths of hope.