Political Stability in Myanmar Key for Asean: Thai Observers
By The Irrawaddy 1 February 2021
The military coup in Myanmar has shocked neighbors, including Thailand. Thai Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon – who came to power in Thailand’s 2014 military coup – said the military takeover was a domestic issue.
“It’s their internal affair,” Gen Prawit told reporters when asked about Myanmar’s coup against the democratically elected government of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other senior government figures.
Thailand and Myanmar’s armed forces have forged closer relations in the last 10 years and coup maker Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has visited Thailand several times.
According to regional intelligence sources, Myanmar’s military sounded out other states before staging the coup, including China, India, Japan and Thailand.
Kavi Chongkittavorn, a prominent Thai commentator on regional affairs, said before the news of the coup broke: “Thailand is following the political situation in Myanmar closely and wishes for a peaceful political transition. Thailand has both excellent ties with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the military, so Bangkok hopes that they can work out a solution.”
It is not known how Asean will respond. Kavi said: “Political stability in Myanmar is very important for Asean’s solidarity. In the past decade, Myanmar has integrated gradually with Asean in all dimensions. The second election showed the world that Myanmar is moving towards becoming a functional democracy.” He said Thai journalists were shocked to hear about the coup this morning.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a Thai political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said: “Myanmar’s military coup is a huge blow to fledgling democratization in the region. It will encourage and embolden authoritarian regimes, such as Thailand and Cambodia.
“Myanmar’s military coup is an early test for the Biden administration. It may well err on the side of not overreacting,” Thitinan added.
“The situation is still fluid. Seizing power is one thing but keeping it at a high cost will be a big challenge to the Tatmadaw [military],” he said.
“It’s early days but the Biden team seems to have broadly taken lessons from the Obama era where they spent a lot of ammunition early and came up short in the end.
“I think the US response under Biden will be more nuanced,” he said.
“Myanmar’s precarious situation is consequential for Southeast Asia. Where democratic backsliding has taken place in the region, it has not gone as far back as military-authoritarianism, except in Thailand”, Thitinan said.
The new administration in Washington condemned the coup. In a statement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the US was “alarmed” by the reports.
“The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition,” Psaki said, adding that Washington “will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed”.
It is believed that the US will take tough measures against the military leaders. Under the Obama administration, the US lifted sanctions on Myanmar’s military and its generals during Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Washington in September 2016 after the country introduced a series of political reforms.
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