Myanmar Round Up : February 2021
Cchavi Vasisht, Research Associate, VIF

On 01 February 2021, Myanmar military seized control of the country and arrested Aung San Suu Kyi and other government officials. Twenty-three political parties including Union Solidarity Democratic Party (USDP) declared their support to the military aka Tatmadaw. In the 2020 elections, the military claimed fraud, in which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won a landslide victory with more than 80 per cent of the vote.

The police filed a charge against Aung San Suu Kyi of illegally possessing imported walkie-talkie radios, and other additional charges were filed. The entire month witnessed protests and demonstrations demanding the end of military rule and the release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The military increased security presence and deployed armoured vehicles in major cities, such as Yangon, Mandalay. On 28 February, Myanmar witnessed its most violent day with a record number of 18 deaths. The police use of violence to quell the protests has been internationally condemned.

Internationally, there have been mixed responses with the developed countries such as United States, Britain and Canada imposing sanctions. On the other hand, major powers like China, Russia are supporting the country. India has taken a cautious approach. The article below discusses these political developments and international reactions.

Political Developments

On 16 February, Myanmar’s military promised that another election would be held and it would hand over power to the elected government. However, 70 lawmakers elected in November defied the military government by taking their office oaths on 4 February at a symbolic parliamentary meeting. The Committee has refused to recognise the new regime and invited the UN and foreign governments to discuss official business with its members rather than the generals. It has also promulgated a law reappointing Aung San Suu Kyi to the State Counsellor position.

After seizing control, the Tatmadaw formed the State Administration Council (SAC), headed by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The Tatmadaw is using the council to further its interests and take important administrative decisions. The SAC enacted the Amendment of Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, which empowered the Commander-in-Chief to temporarily restrict or suspend citizens’ fundamental rights. This permits the authorities to enter private residences without warrants and detain for more than 24 hours without court orders.1 The Council further announced that the military government would set up three new peace committees to achieve genuine peace and “pragmatic results.” The three committees are- the Central Committee for National Unity and Peacemaking, the National Unity and Peacemaking Working Committee and the National Unity and Peacemaking Coordination Committee.2

The experts questioned council’s formation and composition, and Tatmadaw is also accused of playing divide and rule policy with the ethnic groups. The four ethnic party leaders who competed against the NLD have joined the council. For example, the Mon Unity Party leader gave support and joined the council in the hope of federal democracy and self-determination. The Arakan National Party (ANP) released a statement announcing its support to the Tatmadaw. The Tatmadaw is also using this opportunity to win over the Rakhine people, as on 02 February, it lifted internet restrictions in Rakhine state and later also released Arakanese political prisoners.

However, on 07 February, several Arakanese civil society organisations released a joint statement urging the ANP to cancel its decision.3 The Ta’ang National Liberation Army leaders posted photos with three raised fingers on Facebook, demonstrating solidarity with the anti-coups. The military is also launching attacks in northern Shan State. The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) said that the Tatmadaw broke the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) terms when it attacked RCSS’s camps in Hsipaw Township. RCSS was one of the first NCA signatories to condemn the Tatmadaw’s coup.4

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has remained silent on the military coup, except for a concerned note from KIO Vice Chairman Lt. Gen. Gun Maw. The KIO said it would not get involved in the current political crises but urged the Tatmadaw to avoid violent crackdowns on the protesters. It also urged the protesters not to be violent. The KIO accepts neither the 2008 Constitution nor the elections held under its aegis.

International Reactions

The international community came out strongly against the military’s actions. The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on 02 February but failed to agree on a statement. China and Russia asked for more time to decide at the Security Council. On the next day, UN Secretary-General Guterres said he would pressure Myanmar's generals to reverse course.

The US President, Joe Biden stated that “the US would stand up for democracy wherever it is under attack” and threatened Myanmar with “an immediate review of sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action”. Later, Biden approved sanctions on military leaders, their business interests and close relatives and redirected more than USD 40 million of aid from the Myanmar government to civil society. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also condemned the “coup”. Britain and Canada have also imposed sanctions against military leaders.

Japanese beverage giant Kirin announced it was pulling out of a joint venture with a military-owned firm, Myanmar Beer. RMH Singapore said it would be giving up its shares in Myanmar’s Virginia Tobacco Company, another joint venture co-owned by the military. New Zealand announced suspension of high-level contacts with Myanmar’s new leadership and imposed travel bans on its military leaders.

The Southeast Asian leaders, such as in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia also expressed concern. However, the reactions have not been similar across the world. Despite differences in opinions, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) released a statement, which suggested the need to “return to normalcy.” China made a cautious move with the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin stating that they are keeping a note of what is happening in Myanmar. There were reports that China is helping the military develop a firewall, but later, Chinese authorities refused the same.

The social media giant Facebook reduced the distribution of all content and profiles run by Myanmar’s military, saying they have “continued to spread misinformation”.5

India’s Engagements

India has expressed its “deep concern” and also has given its support for a democratic transition. The MEA released a press statement on 01 February 2021 stating that - “We have noted the developments in Myanmar with deep concern. India has always been steadfast in its support to the process of democratic transition in Myanmar. We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld. We are monitoring the situation closely.” Later on 24 February, Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane in a virtual conference on the “Role of the Indian Army in Dealing with the Contemporary National Security Challenges”, asserted that India wants a "stable" Myanmar. 6

In an unexpected move, Myanmar-based Chin National Army (CNA) made an informal request seeking asylum in Mizoram for family members of its leaders anticipating a crackdown against it by Myanmar’s military regime. Following the CNA’s request, the Mizoram state DC communicated to all the bordering villages to report any illegal entry from across the border to the district authority. Peace in Chin and Rakhine states is a prerequisite for the smooth completion of the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project. India will be in a fix if the CNA make a formal request for asylum. An outright no will turn the CNA against India, which will be detrimental to India’s interest in Myanmar. 7

In a humanitarian gesture, two Indian coast guard ships sent help to the refugees found in a boat adrift in the Andaman Sea. The boat was carrying 90 Rohingya refugees, including eight who had died. 8

Economic Impact

The economic impact of the military coup is a cause of concern, with the imposition of sanctions and cancelling of international projects and the effects of a post-pandemic world. A Thai-owned USD 1 billion industrial estate project halted its operations immediately and a Perth-based resources company developing silver, zinc and lead mine in Shan state of Myanmar suspended share-trading. Japanese car giant Suzuki immediately halted operations at two of its factories in Myanmar. Japan’s Kirin Holdings announced that it will terminate its two major joint ventures in Myanmar.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank are concerned about the aid transferred and how to recover the same. IMF transferred USD 350 million to the Myanmar government in January 2021 as an emergency aid package. The IMF’s counterparty in Myanmar is the Central Bank of Myanmar, and the Myanmar military has now appointed Than Nyein as the country’s new central bank governor. World Bank had provided more than USD 150 million to Myanmar since the pandemic started. Fitch Solutions has stated that the political instability in Myanmar could make a “significant impact” on Myanmar’s economy. The group has lowered its real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth forecast for the financial year 2020/2021 to 2 per cent, down from 5.6 per cent. It also slashed its economic outlook for FY 2021/2022 to 2 per cent from 6 per cent.

While some countries and businesses have decided to suspend or cancel their affiliations with Myanmar, some firms continue to stay. Australia’s Woodside Petroleum has three-well drilling plans in progress and has confirmed that they remain on schedule even after the coup. Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP), operating the Zawtika gas field off Myanmar, is also working on the project.9


The protests’ scale and depth are unprecedented, surpassing the 1988 and 2007 uprisings against the military. On 22 February, thousands walked the streets in various cities and towns in a nationwide general strike dubbed as the “22222 Revolution”. There are fears of the reversal of democratic transition. The peace negotiations with Ethnic Armed Organisations will further be halted as the Tatmadaw relations with the ethnic groups have worsened given the increasing trend of violence. The Tatmadaw is now playing divide and rule policy. The fate of Rohingya and other ethnic minority groups who were driven out of the country by the military are under uncertainty.

The economic crises surmounted by the COVID-19 pandemicand civil unrest have made business in Myanmar very difficult. NetBlocks, which monitors internet outages said multiple internet providers in Myanmar were restricting access "as operators comply with an apparent blocking order". The imposition of international sanctions and isolation has placed Myanmar business interests are at risk. However, it is assumed that the military were aware ofsacrificing international acceptability and economic gains. Also, the military is counting on close alliances with major powers, China and Russia, both of whom have protected Myanmar.

As argued previously, the military cannot operate without addressing its concerns regarding election fraud and releasing the political leaders. Democratic institutions have been in operation in Myanmar since 2010 and were working relatively well. Therefore the military needs to work in cooperation with the democratically elected government and not against it

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