Myanmar has found itself in a tangled situation since the military coup d’état that overthrew its government on 1st February, 2021. Thereafter, the Senior General Ming Aung Hlaing proceeded in order to ensure the establishment of military supremacy as law, endorsed by the belief that the newly elected democratic government, led by the State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi, was fraudulent. Over the past few months, the coup has triggered an overabundance of protests and civil movements and more recently Myanmar’s shadow government started to encourage citizens to revolt against the military junta. Regarding internal disorders, Myanmar still has a long way to go, but one bigger uncertainty has made its way into the regional scenario: could the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan get in the way of achieving relatively successful stability in the country?
At first glance, it seems that Afghanistan and Myanmar share nothing in common but looking at the roots of both countries’ military and political subversion, one could say that externally enforced democratization is a common ground between the two. The region has historically been disputed between colonial powers that imposed their way of governing without analysing the context. Decades of mismanagement will inevitably lead to the fall of democracy and give a certain level of legitimation when a violent seizure takes place. To the eyes of the western world, it might seem that promoting democracy abroad is a moral obligation, but political transitions are more successful when they originate from the local societies. In some cases, foreign intervention in a country’s political affairs and regime, rather than accelerating the process, have weakened or even voided its transition to democracy. The export of democracy is not just an abstract idea, a moral obligation, or a political promise, it has also become an industry that moves huge sums of money. It is estimated that the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, the Scandinavian countries and others spend about $10 billion a year to support programs that seek to strengthen democracy around the world.
The Taliban rise to power follows the decision of the US to withdraw from Kabul, leaving Afghanistan in chaos and arguably nullifying 20 years of war. Within days from the county’s fall to the Taliban rule, China moved its first sign of endorsement of the neighbour’s coup d’état. The spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign affairs, Hua Chunying, stated that China will respect the choice and will of the Afghan people, leaving no questions on who the country decided to side with.
China’s foreign policy is certainly embedded with self-interest and looks at both Afghanistan and Myanmar's change of power as an opportunity to expand both its political and economic interests. Allegedly, China’s priorities are stability and the principle of non-interference vis-a-vis its neighbour, which led to the progressive cooperation and recognition of the military government of Myanmar. The extension of China’s favour towards the legitimacy of the Taliban government further validates the fear of those who oppose the junta. In the eyes of the Myanmar citizens, the approval of such governments sets the pace for future endorsement and assistance to the junta.
On a regional level, little has been done in favour of Myanmar’s democracy. With China stepping towards a de facto recognition of the junta, India struggling with its “Neighbourhood First” policy and the inadequacy of ASEAN in managing a resilient and coordinated response, democracy seems to be a distant memory.
On the other hand, the Afghanistan issue could lead to a revived western intervention in the region. A soft power move that would surely resonate in South-East Asia, seems to be the less destructive option for western countries. In today’s time, soft power could be the way to go rather than coercion, which appears a thing of the past. A soft power approach could be opted specifically by the US to regain some leverage in the area and avoid any further expansion of China and Russia, who play a major role in the narrative. A more offensive approach the US could consider is a military intervention on behalf of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
The future of Myanmar is uncertain, alongside the puzzling question of who will form the government successfully. Myanmar’s crisis has faded from the international newspaper although, at the moment, given the erratic stability of the region, a resolution may still be in sight.