Myanmar's military staged a coup on February 1, detaining key public figures including Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi. At the same time, Myanmar's broadcasting communication was cut, and chaos erupted among citizens as well as around the world. Myanmar's citizens have taken to the streets to actively fight against the military coup and for finding Myanmar's spring. Why did the coup happen in Myanmar, and how are the citizens responding to Myanmar's military?
On February 1, the announcement "Aung San Suu Kyi State Counselor Detention" was broadcast all over the news around the world. Myanmar's military forces detained Aung San Suu Kyi and her allies for election fraud. It declared a year of emergency. At the same time, the military staged a coup and placed command of the nation in the hands of Commander Min Aung Hlaing. Myanmar has a 53 year history of military dictatorship. In 1962, the military seized control of Myanmar in a coup. Myanmar staged an anti-dictatorship demonstration in 1988, known as the 8888 Uprising. It was not enough to topple the military dictatorship, but in the 2015 free elections, Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to replace the National League for Democracy (NLD). Besides, in the 2020 general elections, Aung San Suu Kyi won 83 percent of the total seats, resulting in a democratic government. The military then staged a coup on Feb. 1 opposing the general election results. The military has taken control of the nation again, though there are long democratic movements.
Aung San Suu Kyi had been fighting for many years to bring democracy to Myanmar. She was not known as the president of Myanmar, but as a national adviser, which is as influential as the president. However, Suu Kyi, the symbol of democracy in Myanmar, was detained and the military declared a long-term emergency. To resist, Myanmar citizens and overseas Myanmar residents have gathered together to protest the military dictatorship by participating in in-person demonstrations and on SNS. A simple hashtag search on #SaveMyanmar and #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar will result in a large number of SNS photos and videos of Myanmar's military beating up protesters. Search findings actively inform people around the world of the military's indiscriminate violent behavior. However, the military has started to confuse citizens by blocking SNS and mobile Internet access. The military has also said that content circulated on SNS is false and those sharing it or posting it will be punished strongly. With the number of protesters growing, the military has declared martial law in some large cities including Yangon and Mandalay. This declaration has made it more difficult for citizens to protest because of national curfews and a ban on rallies of more than five people. The military is depriving Myanmar of democracy.
The Spring of Myanmar
The citizens of Myanmar immediately rallied against the military. The day after Aung San Suu Kyi was detained on February 1, citizens gathered in Yangon to protest against the coup. Non-violent demonstrations such as the tapping of pots and the honking of car horns continued. On the streets, people held banners with the words, "We oppose the military coup," and shouted slogans like "Release our detained leaders." Scribbling could be found all over Myanmar's streets that read, "We don't want a dictator." Citizens are refusing to recognize the military government as nonviolent. They are using SNS to urge domestic citizens as well as the international community to pay attention to the situation in Myanmar. Myanmar's military has now blocked all social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, which had been making their control difficult. This sparked more demonstrations. In addition to street demonstrations, professors at some universities refused to teach classes, and medical staff refused to perform medical treatment at hospitals. The military government said it would punish the protestors severely, and eventually fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters. On February 13, a woman was shot by police and died.1) Now, more than 500 people have been killed including children. The military's activities are becoming more powerful.
The scene of the military taking power in a coup and citizens taking to the streets, shouting out for democracy, are very similar to the May 18 Democratic Movement in Korea. The May 18 Democratic Movement protested against the new Chun Doohwan regime, who seized power in the December 12 coup. In Myanmar, the army has also shot at its own nation's people, all of whom were unarmed, killing hundreds. Once a member of the official 5.18 group said, "The video of the situation in Myanmar posted on the Internet reminds me of the days during the May 18 Democratic Movement. It is painful to view. I can't say more. I want to help Myanmar people win their democratic uprising in any form."2) Also, lyrics to 'the march for' were translated into the Myanmar language, and citizens sang it during their protest. Much like the May 18 Democratic Movement, Myanmar also has its citizens shouting out for democracy. Myanmar citizens claim they hope to overcome the current situation by taking lessons from Korea's pain. One person said he learned about how Korea overcame its difficult times and hopes to use Korea's democratic uprising as a role model. The person intends to imitate it.3) As these examples suggest, Myanmar's pro-democracy movement connects with Korean people, and Myanmar is using Korea's past as its role model.
Different Views of Myanmar
The U.S. and China differ in their views on the military coup in Myanmar. China, shortly after the coup, suggested political forces should peacefully resolve disputes within the framework of the nation's constitution and law so that the country maintains political and social stability. China is on the sidelines, suggesting it is defending Myanmar's military, which has angered Myanmar's citizens. Thus, on March 7, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi defended Myanmar's pro-democracy movement and said he would play a constructive role in easing the situation by preventing bloody clashes through communications. In other words, China is attempting to protect the stability of Myanmar due to strategic interests.4) Contrary to China's relatively passive attitude, the U.S. has demanded that Myanmar's military immediately relinquish power. The U.S. has also strongly criticized violence against the protesters and said it would suspend all trade agreements until Myanmar's democratically elected government returns. The Myanmar situation influences the conflict between the U.S. and China. Myanmar is the route through the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean where China transports its oil and gas by land. Therefore, China has been relatively more supportive of Myanmar's military than the U.S.. The U.S. has taken a stand and announced that it cannot ignore Myanmar's location, nor can it ignore the relationship between Myanmar and China. As such, the conflict between the U.S. and China is heightened through the Myanmar crisis.
At the moment, ASEAN members have not yet interfered, saying that it was a domestic issue in Myanmar. India has not yet taken a hard stance on the situation in Myanmar, unlike the United States. In addition, Indian embassy officials attended the Myanmar Armed Forces Day parade. The people of India have strongly condemned the Indian government's order to return Myanmar refugees. However, on April 2, India's Foreign Ministry demanded the release of hundreds of imprisoned political prisoners and protesters, saying it opposes any use of violence by the military. India has changed its position on the situation, saying it supports the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. The Philippines did not take any direct stance on the coup, fearing for the safety of its citizens in Myanmar. However, it, too, changed its stance like India, expressing support for complete democracy in Myanmar. Thailand said it is prepared to accept refugees from Myanmar and would play the role of mediator in the international community. However, international organizations such as the United Nations are not taking active roles. Once the U.N. Security Council gets involved, a practical solution to the Myanmar issue will be possible. However, the situation is complicated because China and Russia have relatively close ties with Myanmar. That is, there is a complex relationship hidden in the international community that prevents stricter sanctions on Myanmar's military.5) Nonetheless, the international community should keep an eye on the situation in Myanmar and try to stop further loss of life there.
The road to democracy
Much like the 5.18 Democratic Movement in Korea, the movement in Myanmar in 2021 needs close international attention. Koreans are paying attention to the situation in Myanmar as it is similar to the democracy movement in Korea. Other countries around the world will have to watch and protect Myanmar so that there are no more victims. In Myanmar, democracy seems a dream, but it is not that far away.
1) Min Younggyu, "The Woman Who Was Shot During a Demonstration Died From Her Brain Injury. the Family Remove Her From the Respirator", YNA, February 13, 2021
2) Cheon Jeongin, ""Nightmares Reproduced in Myanmar" Similar To 'the 5.18 Democratic Movement'", YNA, March 3, 2021
3) Hong Jangwon, "Bloody Myanmar "Korea Is a Role Model for Democracy…in Desperate Need of Help"", MK NEWS, March 9, 2021
4) Won Dongwook, "China's Truth on the Situation in Myanmar", OHMYNEWS, April 1, 2021
5) Lee Jeongwon, "More Than 500 People Died in Myanmar's Military Crackdown. What Is the Role of the International Community?", JTBC MORNING &, March 31, 2021