37th & The World

37th & The World: The ongoing crisis in Myanmar

February 14, 2024 Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (GJIA) Season 4 Episode 6
37th & The World
37th & The World: The ongoing crisis in Myanmar
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Show Notes Transcript

Three years after the Tatmadaw military deposed Myanmar's ruling party in a coup d'état, the country still faces an ongoing crisis. In this interview, GJIA sits down with Dr. Htwe Htwe Thein, an associate professor at Curtin University, Australia, specializing in business and economic development in Myanmar.

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GJIA General:

Hello, you're listening to 37 world, the official podcast of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, the flagship academic publication of Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service. In 37th in the world we dive into crucial global trends and speak directly. With experts working on issues ranging from security to the economy, technology to society and more episode we dive into ongoing situation and Venmar following the February 2021, two, with Dr. Fleetway theme, and your host, Ariana Welsh. She is widely published in books and journals around the world and has received various research and engagement awards. So Dr. Thing, thanks once again for being here. And we are really glad to have you. And we'll jump right into our first question. If that's alright with you. It's very much so thank you for asking me I'm very pleased to be on your show. Fantastic. Alright, so I'm in September earlier this year, the junta threatened vendors at gunpoint to sell Myanmar beer and its shops and pubs. And I think this is a bit of a Freakonomics situation. And it might be considered bizarre to those who are unfamiliar with Myanmar situation. But Myanmar beer is a military own product of one of many, and the military has taken over much of the economy in Myanmar and has financial interests in almost every sector under its holding companies. So can you tell us a little bit more about that is a kid so the beer at gunpoint as you will see and us say So um, yeah, my beer used to be the you know, before the coup so this is a huge difference in a situation before the coup and then after the coup so used to be the much sought after beer you know, yeah, my people that I can be so that used to be like what sold after entrance of st vendors retailers had to you know, fight for to get the supplies as couldn't get it enough because the demand was very big. But the beer was produced by Kiran you know, Japan's killing od in joint venture relationship with near ma economic holdings, which is owned by the military. So in a joint venture relationship between a foreign company B a brewer and

Unknown:

military and company right popped in appear before but after the coup, Myanmar people engaged in a huge boycott, a boycott campaign to boycott military owned and affiliated brands and services. Right? It it cuts across all the product categories, right and like restaurants, you know, rice brands, beer, soft drinks, all of that that military owned or military affiliated so the MRP was top of the list because it was produced by military owned company and so that domestic boycott of military owned products has really affected the AMA Military University including say boycott dat another big boycott was not to pay bills you know electricity and you know whatever the the collector calm they say no, so it's a kind of so new campaign as well along with that. And lotto I think that the National Lottery used to be really popular and then that really rubbed off the military government with the the you know, with this boycott really the refuse them the revenue, the huge revenue, these bills and and no pay bills, and the the lotto and all of this domestic boycotts has really affected the rating in terms of the cash, no revenue. And and after the coup immediately after the coup, Kiran, BIA withdrew, because because they're working in joint venture with the military and, you know, business and human rights issues and they found themselves this continue working with the military is become inconsistent with the Human Rights protect human rights commitment. So they announced their withdrawal. So Yamabe BIA then became the the military BIA you know, since they currently announced and because of that, you know, people insight and yam was adamant to boycott BSR became a most you know, from the most popular to least popular. Be You all have a second after the coup? Sounds like it sounds like. So you're saying that, you know, again, that the military really does have a lot of financial interest in different sectors of the economy. So it sounds like the military intervention is not just a result of pride. But do you think this is actually hitting the military financially? Or again, do you think it's just a matter of image to them? Well, military see has two sources of income, right town, so this domestic consumption. So that's one one string and another stream, of course, later on we're going to talk about is the international sanctions freaking so that also squeezed in so has been attacked from both sides, you know, domestically and internationally. So it has really affected the June TAS finances. So they started to shut down desperate and chaotic, you know, reactions to fix to fix their finances than to get their hands on hard currency that they saw need to buy weapons, for example, you know, to buy weapons, you know, violent attack on civilians, and the pro democracy resistance. So the whole campaign since the coup, has been focused on staffing the military of the finances, so that they cannot buy arms. Okay, and and, you know, sustain themselves. Our next question, which is that sanctions and trade restrictions have been imposed in the military, and the military's economic interests in Myanmar. And what has been that effectiveness? What has been the challenges in making the sanctions more effective? And again, it sounds like we have a bit of a unique situation here and that there are some foreign interests tied in with Myanmar or the junta has power over the economy. And I think that probably effects that a little bit as well. Yes. So as soon as in a coup, coup happened, the Business and Human Rights dilemma has hit the international investors, especially. So it's a big group, especially those from Western democracies, right. So Western democracies, the businesses then have to take whether the continued operations is going to benefit that the Giunta and junta that will give a lifeline to Jin tak to hang on to power, and to be provided with revenue to buy arms and unit to engage in violent attacks. So you have seen quite a lot of withdrawals, but mostly from Western multinationals. Sometimes they withdraw because of regular regulatory sanctions requirement. But that's that's very few, very few, but that a lot of the withdraws have been high, no looming threat or threat of sanctions. So that shows sanctions has the real power, and also the, you know, the secondary powers or even the threat of it, multinationals kind of, you know, a ponder and also maybe this is time to, to withdraw and also not just affected in Myanmar, they're also in the sanction also affect the operations around the world. So this business and human rights dilemmas really hit multinational enterprises specially from those from Western democracies and sanctions also has a symbolic value that, you know, it really D legitimises, the doing business in Myanmar, D legitimises then the regime. So, not only that, that forces our tendencies to force you know, force out the the existing investors is also hazard deterring is also deters, you know, potential investors to come in. But to be effective sanction has to work in a more integrated manner, not just individual countries imposing sanctions on military interest. So, while the western democracies like the US, Canada, the EU in the UK, impose various sanctions over a period of time on military, top generals, military interest, you know, organisations entities, some what we call cronies you started a business associates of the top generals, they have been also sanctions, you know, assets freeze visa banned. But the Asian investors, most of them, especially at the beginning, you know, went on businesses usual. But late lately, we've also seen Asian businesses starting to say that they are withdrawing the downsizing their operations in Myanmar. That's because in outside of Business and Human Rights, the situation the business environment became quite too bad, you know, to kind of stay on. So there are real operational difficulties, you know, since the coup, you can imagine, and also business and human rights and activist pressure, activist pressure in the advocacy and activist group pressure for Western businesses not to do business with the regime, not to provide revenue to the region has been really immense in n sustained SOS, you know, I do research, you know, talk to some businesses, and they start to think, well, you know, activist pressures is a lot. And Myanmar is a very small, you know, economy. So perhaps some people would think it's not worth it, what the activist pressures so they leave and also, lots of them also left because of this deteriorating town environment. In a way inflation is really big. And just the sheer threats to assets and because it's the country is so destabilised. So I think, um, I think it's a bit of an interesting situation, because the junta has had a lot of power because of their control over the economy, but it's kind of a double edged sword. Now it's kind of turning against them. And it's contributing to destabilising them. Would you say that's correct? Yes, yes. So, yes, at the very dominant economically across a lot of the sectors. So with the sanctions come in targeting, therefore, we got targeted sanctions, targeting economic interest. So that's quite in that they get affected because they their hands are in, in almost every part of the economy. So your assessment is it is very correct. But what the sanctions effect is limited this for two things, because Asian countries and not imposing sanctions that a lot of Asian businesses continuing, and also Myanmar doesn't have that big attraction for foreign businesses. So so it's not integrated, you know, not like South Africa, ASEAN hasn't been able to resolve the Myanmar crisis hasn't been able to provide leadership, you know, as a, as a big national, regional body hasn't, hasn't been able to resolve the crisis. You know, they had this five point consensus that agreed upon at the start of the crisis. agreed by the Giunta, leader, general may outline, he agreed that, you know, we'll follow this by point Christ's five point consensus, but that was totally ignored, totally ignored. And then ASEAN hasn't been able to, you know, find another path or send an envoy. So the pro democracy movement resistance group is not happy with how ineffective ASEAN has been. And you know, that that that goes to the same with the ASEAN businesses, some has withdrawn in Islam has spoken about business and human rights issues, but a lot of them them are going on as business as usual. As you mentioned, many companies have exited Myanmar, responding to calls not to do business with the military, but would you call these first sponsible exits? Right, so responsible atheists is quite interesting that they have guidelines to follow the you know how to exit yet. So not just attendant everything and leave that that's not it's not the way to exit responsibly. So, to exit responsibly, you, you have to find a good buyer, right, for example, in the telecommunications, which you know, telecommunication companies have private data, right sensitive data, user data, you know, you know, addresses and phone numbers and things like that. Because this moon ferment is it's really you know, mobilised using social media. So the data that telecommunications company had is very, very sensitive. So if you sell it to a wrong buyer, then the rating comes and pressure to reveal, you know, to hand in all this sensitive data, that would have been a disaster. Right? So that would make the human rights situation a lot worse. I'm sure a lot of people, especially in the West are thinking that, you know, as more companies leave that this is better, that this is hitting the, you know, the Myanmar military. And kind of signalling that the that, you know, the military is not supported. 13 is not supported, but in essence, it's just, it's just hurting. Yeah. Yeah. But, yes, but at the same time, they can't continue on. Businesses you usual, right, because they, for example, the the guest companies in the revenue, the revenue they're providing to the Giunta was a lot. So so that, I mean, they're in a bind, right? I mean, you know, that with the human rights commitments and all this framework that they sign up, they can't continue operating in the country like telling no Myanmar found out note that will be in conflict with their values, so forth, they have to leave but then when they left the situation becomes worse. So have there been sectoral differences in terms of which sectors are democracy movement wants to exit in which sectors they want to stay in? So oil and gas definitely out? Telecommunications, they want them to continue on because of this down? Previous privacy, data privacy, you know, user information ended up in the janitors hand, garments, some labour global unions, definitely want them out because workers, right situation is very much violated what has been the impact of the economic hardship on the people of Myanmar? Because it sounds like there's definitely a lot of impact there. Well, you know, inflation is spiking and going to know, yeah, going, you know, it's a skyrocketing, and the Myanmar currencies, depreciating. And at the same time, these essential goods in a lot of the essential goods like medicines are in all importers. So the very desperate rate, the June target doesn't have hard currency. So of course, it it is putting a lot of restrictions on what you can import how much you can import. So can you imagine people, a lot of people still refuse to go to work, still refuse to continue providing, you know, taxes and revenue to the military, and they are willing to sit this out? And, you know, if this means if this resistance means that regime is gonna fall one day, they're happy to, you know, yes, suffer. So a lot of the people, you know, which is inside, both inside the country and outside the country, like does aura, really, really want to see, you know, the military goes, so this does this, what they're saying this battle, will be our last 70 years of military domination. If you know, this battle, this spring revolution, it can be can can be victorious in defeating the military, we will not see another battle this time around is different from, say love last time around say, right 30 years ago, because the country went through democracy for the last since about 20 2011, say eight years or so. So that democratic seed has been sold. So people young generation, not my generation, younger generations, you know, they experienced this taste of democracy, and they want to dip back and when breaking staged this military coup, they underestimate the level of resistance. And, and the level of, you know, the power of social media and the commitment that we don't want, you know, military from both inside and the diaspora, so they didn't It underestimated their, you know, determination that and, you know, probably hatred that of the military. So when they staged the coup was underestimated. So n n n young people wanted this democracy that they lost they want to dip back. So that's the different difference between this time and the previous time, you know, 30 years ago. Yeah, so this time is it's wholeheartedly a people's movement, I have heard that the military is it's definitely considered unpopular. And that that was something that they did not factor in when they when they seize control. Yes, yes. So they always been quite aloof, you know, doesn't understand us and get a good pulse on the you know, people's sentiments, that's, that's not new. It's always been like that. So this time around, also, they misunderstood you know, how much you know, the way not wanted, so since that end of October, you know, this alliances between ethnic militias in the rebel groups, really, really, a turn the tables around has been that turning point, and that really encourage people inside and outside Myanmar, that, you know, victory is possible, you know, victory is near. So how I see is that, you know, once you have a strong faith, and you keep going, keep going, you know, one day, the goal can be achieved too early to say, but the signs are that the military is overstretched, you know, being attacked from all fronts. Did you think there's a way the international community could be more responsible? Again, it sounds like the or do you think there's there's not too much of a solution? Do you think that some of these exit says you've been mentioning Do you think that this is just again a side effect? Or do you think that there's a way it could be done better to kind of support the me and more people and the resistance against the military and actually the business communities and the governments around the world should really look into is first one is the the banking sanctions right if the banks are and the banks are pretty globalised once one bank so wants to tackle restrict risk transactions with Myanmar and then are this bank will follow as well. So, once this you know the whole target is to restrict revenues falling in your interest pan so if they start to have a banking restrictions, transactions in and out of Myanmar seriously look into that will really really weaken further weaken the the neon magenta at the moment this this can be done much more at the more integrated and global level Yeah, that's one thing another thing which is really really urgent is the there have the selling of aviation fuel to the junta and that must stop you know the international business I'm I'm an international business scholar, you should look into this supply chain and tackle this this fuels being transported to to Myanmar and some some innovations is needed because you know once you sell someone you know the responsibility the you know that you sell and then you don't really follow who you're gonna resell resell and now who is your end user? So, so the latest innovation is you're calling on insurance companies is handle shipments right you know these shipments the containers and shipments and so to for them to look into and not to ensure these aviation fuel shipments to Myanmar that is gaining some traction, but that should do more people should take more interest in in Myanmar and you know, destabilised Myanmar non democratic Myanmar would not be a good interest of all the neighbours in the in the in the in the Asia Pacific should get more attention, you know, should get some of the attention that the world is providing to the crisis in Ukraine and yeah, my dad is poor also wonder how come the same level you know, they both human rights crisis, the same level it's not given to our struggle, democracies, democratic nations around the world if they do care, care about promoting democracy especially In the Indo China, you know, Asia Pacific region, they should really pay much more attention to resolving the then Yanmar crisis. And you think that that especially with this going up suddenly suddenly my last question, I promise. But do you think that especially with the the situation in Myanmar with the Jin's has control over the economy that that these business sanctions and these exits are the way to go? And I know you mentioned having more global integrated efforts if we had a more global integrated effort in this area, this could just couldn't significantly help. Take away the janitors power and help the people and the resistance in Myanmar. What sanctions are only one tool right? So you have these everything's had to be happening together. So this is the most sanctions from not just Western democracies from like Australia, Australia sanctions on Myanmar, like by only 6% of all the other sanctions So Australia, some, some Sooners some some somehow not following its western airlines when Yamahas concern so more countries sanctioning. Also India, China, Japan, also joining in this global, global targeted sanction regimes and also providing much needed humanitarian assistance to displaced people which is urgently needed. And looking into how we can bring about peace talk or dialogue. They I don't want to take up too much more of your time, but I've taken up quite a lot but again, this is just a really fascinating topic. And thank you so much again for taking your time and giving us all of your knowledge on this I really do appreciate it. Thank you, thank you really want to you know, get the message out and I'm really really grateful that Georgetown University group of students have taken this interest and it's, you know, really encouragement for the move proved democracy movements and thank you

Calla O'Neil:

this 37th in the world, the official podcast of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, please be sure to subscribe and leave a comment and rating on whichever streaming platform you use sports podcasts, you can click on the link in this podcast description. It says support this show. To read other insightful interviews and articles. Please check out good g.georgetown.edu