So the history has not ended nor the process of democratisation over. The second cold war knocks, the only difference it has altered the threshold. The practice of the cold war era is back as eagerness to capture power pushes forth dethroning the legitimate government and decrying the constitutional dictates in Myanmar. A coup is an attempt at capturing power by a military or civilian group, normally a power monger or dissenting, in violation of the constitutional law and the popular legitimacy. “It is an illegal and overt attempts by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to unseat the sitting executive.” (Powell & Thyne 2011).
The Coup, the Constitution and the UN
On the morning of February 1, 2011, Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military executed a coup deposing the Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected government of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The Tatmadaw declared a year-long state of emergency and declared power had been vested in Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Min Aung Hlaing. The coup d’état occurred the day before the Parliament of Myanmar was due to swear in the members elected at the November 2020 general election, preventing this from occurring. President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi were detained, along with ministers and their deputies and members of Parliament (Huaxia).
The coup has been declared under articles 417 and 418 of the Myanmar Constitution that authorises president to declare a state of emergency, following consultation with the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC). Half of the members of NDSC are civilians like President, Vice-President, and Speakers of both the Houses and other officials. The declaration of a state of emergency then transfers legislative, executive, and judicial power to the Commander-in-Chief per Article 418 (Constitution of Myanmar). However, this time the civilian members were not invited for meeting of NDSC to avoid opposition and articles 417 and 418 were called upon declaring one year emergency by Chairman Aung Min Hlaing, for which he is not legally entitled. It is the sole prerogative of President who in consultation with NDSC declares emergency in times of threat to national sovereignty and integrity.
The Myanmar constitution of 2008 has built in pro-military provisions that allow declaration of emergency in times of urgencies of national significance. There are several reasons behind the current development. Min Aung Hlaing is about to retire in July 2021 and there appeared no constitutional way of his return to power. The diplomatic circles view the development differently. It has been seen from the point of lapse of the services of Min Aung Hlaing in July 2021 who wields a significant influence in Myanmar politics and who has been placed by the US Treasury on its list of Specially Designated Nationals in 2019 for his role in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims. Besides the Chinese alacrity to strategically align with the democratically elected government of Aung Su Kyi, which is ideologically closer to New Delhi and not much averse to its role in Myanmar’s future projects, the relationship of Min Aung Hlaing with the Chinese authorities in the previous years also adds to the narrative. Here “the most significant player may prove to be China. A meeting last month between China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, and Min Aung Hlaing may have been the pivotal point in determining the coup. How both China and the United States handle the crisis may be a critical marker for their own relationship”(Ibrahim).
Although the military has been harping over the electoral scandal in the November 2020 elections the decision to depose the government appears to be guided by the support it might have secured for the future expected course of actions internationally. The meeting with Chinese diplomat a month back also clouds the matter. As expected China backed by Russia has today on February 3, 2021 failed UN Security Council issue an agreed upon statement over the condemnation of the military coup in Myanmar. A top U.N. official urged the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to ‘collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar’ as the 15-member body considered a possible statement condemning Monday’s coup (France 24). China and Russia both enjoy the power of veto as permanent members of the Council. China believes that in the post-coup state the imposition of sanctions by UN or western powers would only make things worse in the state.
Now it is also feared that with the new military regime the future of Rohingya may turn worse as Min Aung Hlaing has a poor record in the past. China’s strategic relations with Myanmar have several dimensions for South-East and South Asia. Just like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) it is also pushing the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), as part of its BRI initiative to promote its trade and commerce. A part of CMEC has been completed and a major portion is yet to be completed. The project passes through the areas which are battleground to various ethnic minorities and government forces and this troubles the larger Chinese project.
The Indian Ocean: A Zone of Rivalry
While India, US, Japan and Australia have deepened their strategic ties in the Indian Ocean China’s landlocked provinces of Xinjiang and Yunnan see ‘sea vents’ through CPEC and CMEC at Gwadar and Kyaukpyu. They surround India and become more important for China in view of its continuous stifling in the South China sea by US and company. About 50 percent of the container traffic and 70 percent of the global trade in oil and gas takes place through the Indian Ocean region. Unfollowing Srilanka and Pakistan that have fallen a prey to the ‘debt trap diplomacy’ of China Myanmar follows a more cautious path and has turned down several Chinese projects. CMEC has also remained under shadow for quite long now. Myanmar’s NLD-led government has also raised eyebrows over several Chinese projects that endanger Myanmar’s strategic interest and environmental, social and economic life.
The India, Myanmar and Thailand trilateral road initiative that will connect Moreh (India) with Mae Sot (Thailand) via Myanmar is also under Chinese scanner. The initiative is believed to boost trade in the ASEAN–India Free Trade Area, and also among the other Southeast Asian states. The project plans to link states like Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam also into its fold. In view of these expanding prospects of the zone the democratic regime of Myanmar has been more careful in its decisions that sometimes irk China. “In 2018, the NLD favorably amended Myanmar’s ownership agreement with China for the crucial deep-water port at Kyaukphyu from a 15% stake to 30% for Myanmar and cut project costs by 80%. Furthermore, much of the local human rights community remains wary of sustainability issues and threats to local livelihoods, and even Myanmar’s military distrusts Chinese involvement due to China’s history of supporting ethnic minority rebels (Lucas Myres).
Amidst all these sceptics at this juncture it is not hard to anticipate the understanding between the new regime and China, especially in view of its censoring of a common UNSC condemnation statement against the coup. The development may deeply incise Indian interests in the east (Act East Policy) as China tends to do through CPEC in the west and bring ‘another facet of cold war’ at the threshold of South Asia. While India is sailing in the South China Sea with joint exploratory programmes with Vietnam and few more China strengthens its String of Pearls around to wrench more control in the ocean. The reinstallation of the democratic regime is essential or the world may further witness the unleashing of the chaotic order of the first cold war endangering democracy and promoting dictatorships and war.