Pressure mounts on US and West to support democracy in Myanmar

After a military coup in February, Myanmar’s people have been fighting for democracy, organizing civil disobedience protests and demonstrations across the country.

After the democratically elected National League of Democracy (NLD) was thrown out of office, the military junta led by Senior General Min Aung Huling marched 55 million in this South Asian country formerly known as Burma against the anti-democracy protests. have taken increasingly violent measures, which border both China and India.

But the US and other Western countries are mainly on edge, while neighboring India and China remain non-committal.

Meanwhile, Myanmar is suffering.

Since taking power, the military junta has detained more than 8,389 people and killed an estimated 1,437 of its civilians in response to the protests, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. This relentless brutality and a collapsing economy have created a humanitarian crisis.

One protest leader continued to challenge the military, pleading for help.

“We need to send a message to the world about Myanmar’s horrific human rights violations,” Myanmar’s protest leader Khin Sandar told Reuters. “We want our rights back. We want revolution. We mourn for our fallen heroes.”

While the protesters and activists are resolute in their fight, some worry that their efforts to advance democracy will not be enough. Stakeholders at all levels are vying for greater international support.

The UN’s special envoy on Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, told Al-Jazeera: “This is absolutely humiliating, unacceptable action by the military.”

“There needs to be a series of specific actions on the table that can and should be done,” he said. “Then we have to move as strongly as we can to see that the international community takes those actions.”

He said that a clear message should be given to the world.

“The people of Myanmar need to know that we are with them,” Andrews said.

In response to the coup and ongoing violence, the United States has publicly condemned military leaders and imposed a number of sanctions on officials in the new military government.

“At the request of Congress, the US government is going to come up with a new strategy very soon,” Priscilla Clapp, a former US mission chief in Myanmar, told PBS.

“They are looking very hard at how to cut some of the revenue from oil and gas,” she said. “It’s not that easy, so we have to be careful, but there are ways to squeeze them, and that’s certainly the main thrust of American policy, to squeeze as much of our military as possible.”

“Unfortunately, strong US statements and sanctions are unlikely to do much to change the situation on the ground,” said Peter Mumford, head of practice for Southeast and South Asia at the Eurasia Group.

“I really think there is little the US can do to change what is happening to Myanmar,” he told CNBC. “And there’s a question about how far the US and other countries would really like to go on sanctions – given the negative effects that could have on the population.”

While the US provides support through sanctions and censure, other countries such as its neighbors India, the world’s largest democracy, and China have been more cautious in backing one side.

As Myanmar’s two primary global trading partners, officials in New Delhi and Beijing are trying to normalize engagement with both the new military power and members of the overthrown government.

Last week, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Myanmar for the first time since the military coup. He held meetings with senior officials, including senior General Min Aung Huling, as well as officials from political parties including civil society and the National League for Democracy.

He urged Myanmar authorities to release political prisoners and hold elections. The junta agreed to the request, but said the process would not begin until 2023.

The report confirms a similarly cautious strategy of Beijing, which has economic operations going on in the country. It recently transferred military equipment to Myanmar’s military government, amid public claims that it had prevented Min Aung Huling from disbanding the NLD.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, “China is ready to contact and communicate with all sides on the basis of respect for Myanmar’s sovereignty and people’s will, so as to play a constructive role in reducing tensions.”

Many in Myanmar have accused both India and China of complacency on the issue, with neutral stances.

“We want the Indian government to put more pressure on the military to kill people and shoot protesters and restore democracy,” James Funai, chairman of the Chin Refugee Committee in Myanmar, told Reuters.

Anti-Chinese sentiment has also risen since the coup, as activists call for a tacit response from Beijing. This led to several protests at the Chinese embassy in Yangon, and many Chinese-funded factories were ransacked and set on fire.

The protesters denounced foreign officials for choosing their own economic interests over human rights and the true “will of the people”.

In response to China’s strategy, protest leader E Thinjar Maung posted on Facebook: “If you want to do business in Myanmar, be respectful. [the] Myanmar people.”

Nearby countries have also taken the lead. According to diplomatic sources, the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed not to invite Senior General Min Aung Huling to the leadership summit in October due to slow progress in restoring peace in the country.

“Myanmar’s participation in the summit should not be represented at the political level until Myanmar restores its democracy through an inclusive process,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi tweeted after the summit.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s military government blamed “foreign interference” for the ASEAN decision.

Tatmada officials have dismissed these international criticisms, showing little desire to engage with foreign nations or negotiate with the deposed government.

“We have carried out our actions in accordance with the law. NLD extremists and their supporters chose an act of terrorism rather than committing or solving it in accordance with the law,” Min Aung Hlaing said in a public address. “They incite to become anarchists and have armed rebellion. They tend to make enemies with those who do not support or have similar opinions.”

The military denies wrongdoing and claims to be acting in the best interest of the people of Myanmar. It calls the death toll from AAPP “exaggerated”.

“We have to try to get them back to a stable position,” Min Aung Huling said of the protesters.

Humanitarian group Save the Children said two of its employees were among at least 35 people killed on Christmas Eve in Myanmar. Above, vehicles smolder in Hapruso Township, Kaya State, Myanmar, Friday, December 24, in this photo provided by the Kareni Nationality Defense Force (KNDF).