Myanmar Junta Chief Turns to Officials of Former Regime for Foreign Policy Advice

By The Irrawaddy 19 August 2022

Min Aung Hlaing has reshuffled a so-called think-tank tasked with feeding him with “innovative ideas and policy suggestions” on international relations, stacking the organization with yes-men.

The Myanmar Institute for Strategic and International Studies (MISIS) has been brought back under the control of the Foreign Ministry, with junta-linked figures dominating the body.

The junta’s foreign minister, U Wunna Maung Lwin, who served in the same capacity under the U Thein Sein government, and international cooperation minister, U Ko Ko Hlaing, who served as an adviser to U Thein Sein’s government, serve as patrons of the think-tank tasked with assessing and researching regional and international affairs.

Other members are Dr. Nay Zin Latt, the chairman of the National Development Party, who formerly served as an adviser to U Thein Sein, and Dr. Yin Yin Nwe, who is also on Min Aung Hlaing’s advisory board.

The executive secretary of the think-tank is the director-general of the Strategic Studies and Training Department, U Zaw Phyo Wai, a son-in-law of former military dictator Than Shwe.

The MISIS was established in 1992 by the then regime, which called itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council, with the foreign minister as the chairman and director generals of various government departments as members. It was then called the Myanmar Strategic and International Studies Division, tasked with studying regional and international peace- and security-related issues.

It was re-established in 2013 as an independent think-tank, and named the MISIS, but continued to be dominated by military figures. Among the members were senior officials from the National Defense College and Directorate of Military Research, former civil servants and prominent scholars.

Reconstituted as a 32-member think-tank by the current regime, it comprises individuals who have continuously spoken ill of the National League for Democracy since the U Thein Sein-led Union Solidarity and Development Party was defeated in the 2015 general election.

The purpose of the organization, according to the junta-controlled English newspaper The Global New Light of Myanmar, is to study, observe and conduct research on regional and international issues in view of developing innovative ideas and making policy suggestions, through effective use of the Track II diplomacy and friendly and close collaboration with think-tanks in Myanmar and abroad, those which have mutual interests and concerns.

Track II diplomacy is the practice of “non-governmental, informal and unofficial contacts and activities between private citizens or groups of individuals, sometimes called ‘non-state actors,’” it said.

Since the military coup last year, pro-military figures from the previous regime have gathered under the banner of Min Aung Hlaing, serving as ministers or advisers in his regime, and backing any war crime he has committed and those he is still committing.

Dr. Nay Zay Lin, a former captain from the Myanmar military who served as an adviser to U Thein Sein, may be a newcomer to Min Aung Hlaing’s regime, but since the coup he has authored four books full of attacks against the NLD, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the parallel National Unity Government, its parliamentary branch, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, and its armed wing, the People’s Defense Force. He regularly appears on pro-military talk shows hosted by junta mouthpiece Myawaddy TV.

According to the junta’s gazette, the think-tank was formed on June 15, 2022. But details about it have not yet been made public. A ceremony was held at the junta-controlled Foreign Ministry in Naypyitaw on July 18 to welcome the members, but junta media did not reveal their names in their reports.

Naing Swe Oo, a former military doctor and the founder of the Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, is also on the think-tank. When he made public his involvement in the think-tank on his Facebook page, he covered the names of other members.

The think-tank, whose term lasts four years, comprises deputy ministers, retired ambassadors and experts in international relations as well as defense, legal and economic affairs. Min Aung Hlaing has brought many officers from U Thein Sein’s government into his regime.