New Great Game rages in post-coup Myanmar

China has declared its support for Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s military-coup government in Myanmar. The United States and the European Union have implemented sanctions and declared their support for the people’s power movement agitating against the dictatorship.

India and Japan are keeping quiet because they don’t want to push Myanmar further back into the clutches of China. Thailand is too dependent on natural gas imports from Myanmar to dare to condemn or even criticize the coup.

The rest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, has once again demonstrated that it is wholly incapable of resolving regional crises.

That, in a nutshell, is how the main external actors have reacted to the turmoil that Min Aung Hlaing thrust upon Myanmar when he and his henchmen seized power on February 1.

How this Great Game proxy theater plays out remains to be seen, but it is clear that it has pitted China against the US in a conflict that is escalating into a regional crisis.

Beyond the superpower rivalry, Japan, India and other regional actors are not keen to see Chinese influence grow in a desperate Myanmar.  

That desperation is growing. Waves of refugees are beginning to stream to Myanmar’s borders with Thailand and across the frontier into India, representing the front edge of a new humanitarian crisis that could come to rival the country’s earlier Rohinyga exodus.

Economically and financially, the country is on the verge of collapse, driving out many of the Western investors who entered the country in hopes of a democratic transition. But there are growing signs that China sees opportunity in Myanmar’s crisis.

At a regional meeting in Chongqing on June 8, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi assured his Myanmar counterpart Wunna Maung Maung Lwin that bilateral relations have not been affected by what he referred to as “changes in Myanmar’s domestic and external situation.”

Chinese officials also pledged support for ASEAN’s diplomatic initiatives on Myanmar’s crisis, despite the fact the “five point consensus” agreed between Min Aung Hlaing and ASEAN representative at a one-day meeting in Jakarta on April 24 have been largely dead on arrival.