Takudzwa R. Muvundi
HARARE – On the morning of 1 February 2021 the state of Myanmar (also known as Burma) woke up to the news that its democratic leader known as state counselor Suu Kyi and her administration including President U Win Myint had been incarcerated and the country’s military chief General Min Aung was leading the country during the one year state of emergency.
Yes you guessed it well, a military coup had taken place as a response to elections that had easily returned Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy into power, dealing a heavy blow to the army. The country had been under military rule till 2011 when a nominally civilian government was sworn in.
USA interests in the Myanmar conflict have been an issue of making the region a contention between them and China by not letting the Asian giant to swallow the small state. In real estate, they say value is derived from location, and Myanmar is just that, a strategically placed country between emerging mega nations of Asia- China and India.
America is in cordial relations with some of the South Asian states like India, South Korea and Japan. It is indeed justified that the interests of the Washington administration are geopolitically motivated with the aim of cementing strategic regional balance in the Asian Pacific.
The Biden administration fears a possible Myanmar over reliance on China for business and military resources and this will obviously effect a regional imbalance as China will emerge stronger in the region. The USA’s foreign policy on Myanmar has a geopolitical rationale with the aim of stopping the Chinese from taking charge in the East Asian Region.
Related to this is also its aim to safeguard the interests of Asian counterparts that is Japan, India and South Korea who have capitalized on the Myanmar politics conflict and over the years, expanded business and military assistance in Myanmar. These countries have been key players in these sectors as their presence has helped in countering China’s economic stranglehold in the Asian Country.
Chinese influence over the years has been a threat to these other Asian countries since it has been a major investor and trading partner to Myanmar. This has been threatening to other neighboring countries who are American counterparts thus America thrives to protect interests of its Asian counterparts who have been of help in countering Chinese influence in the Region.
Consequently, America has also disguised itself with the discourse of safeguarding democracy and fighting gross human rights violations by the military. Past years we have witnessed the mass murders of the Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar military and this has enabled USA intrest in the conflict with the aim to protect human rights violations and stop the atrocities and killings by the military.
History has proven that sanctions wont bring meaningful change in the human rights practices of the regime but it will rather make the bad situation worse. They will strengthen the hand of the ruling military junta by creating a scapegoat for their internal failures.
Presented with the above justifications for why USA is invested in the Myanmar conflict, USA had been stalling in sanctioning the Myanmar genarals because it poses negative consequences on it and its Asian counterparts. Unilateral economic sanctions by the federal, state and local government against nations around the world has become a trend in USA foregn policy as noted in countries it has samctioned like Cuba, Sudan, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Iran.
However, the Biden administration has passed the first phase of sanctions on Myanmar coup actors with many to follow, whats left is to see how this shapes the region.
The sanctions could negatively impact USA as it damages the intrests of American companies operating in the region by undermining and spoilling their reputation as reliable suppliers. The sanctions will deny USA firms the ability to compete aggressively with rival foreign firms for marketshare and investment.
This would negatively impact USA partnership structure which has been crucial in fighting Chinese behavior within the region.
To Biden and USA, Myanmar crisis presents an early foreign policy test with decisions requiring gnosis and wisdom of being very selective, compromise that does not hit hard on Asian counterparts intrests. For China, U.S. sanctions on Myanmar could open door for it to extend its influence in the South Asian country. It would push Myanamar generals towards China as a proactive partner in times where allies would have deserted.
This would impede USA’s foreign policy aims of strstegic regional balance and thwarting Chinese investments and influence in global affairs and economies.
Mr Muvundi is a political scientist, analyst and strategist who is a holder of a Hons degree in Politics and Public Management.
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