Category Archives: Nation

Why China wants Suu Kyi to win Myanmar’s polls

China’s interests will be better served by the Suu Kyi-led status quo than a return to military-dominated rule

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi shake hands before a bilateral meeting at the Presidential Palace in Naypyidaw on January 18, 2020. Photo: AFP/ Nyein Chan Naing/Pool

BANGKOK – As Myanmar enters an election season, the economy, Covid-19 and issues of war and peace are expected to dominate the campaign trail discourse.

But for the international community, speculation centers on which direction foreign policy will likely take after the poll: toward an even stronger and closer relationship with China or a shift towards a more independent posture.

Much has changed since the leaders in Beijing favored Myanmar’s authoritarian military regime and were deeply suspicious of then opposition leader and one-time pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Now, Chinese government representatives have made no secret in recent private discussions that they would prefer to see Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) win and are wary of the generals, who they find it increasingly difficult to influence and control.

The military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party lost badly to the NLD at the 2015 election and it’s not clear it will fare much better at this November’s poll.

While Myanmar’s military sees it as their duty to defend the nation’s sovereignty and seek to lessen national dependence on China, Suu Kyi turned to Beijing for economic and other assistance after her previous allies and admirers in the West distanced themselves from her over the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Beginning in August 2017 and still ongoing, thousands of Rohingyas have been killed while hundreds of thousands have fled across the border into Bangladesh due to a Myanmar military crackdown.

Once seen as a champion of human rights, Suu Kyi refused to condemn the carnage the UN and others have termed as possible “genocide.” As such, Suu Kyi turned dramatically and almost overnight from darling to pariah of the West.

The third force in Myanmar’s topsy-turvy foreign relations is Japan, which sees the dangers of the region’s shifting geopolitics and thus has not joined the West’s condemnations.

Rohingya refugees shout slogans at a protest against a disputed repatriation program at the Unchiprang refugee camp near Teknaf on November 15, 2018. Photo: AFP/Dibyangshu Sarkar

From August 21 to 24, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi paid visits to Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to strengthen Tokyo’s presence in the four Southeast Asian countries. That his tour took place amid the pandemic underscores the importance of his mission: to counter China’s rising regional clout.

In Myanmar, Motegi met Suu Kyi as well as Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Motegi promised Suu Kyi technical assistance to contain the spread of Covid-19. They also agreed to better facilitate travel for businesspeople and students between the two countries.

In discussions with Min Aung Hlaing, Motegi pledged support for Myanmar’s peace process. A statement issued by Japan’s Foreign Ministry also stated rather curiously and without elaborating that Motegi and Min Aung Hlaing “exchanged views” on regional affairs, “including the South China Sea issue and concurred on deepening cooperation between the two countries.”

It remains to be seen whether Motegi’s promises to Suu Kyi will be enough to make a dent in Beijing’s already strong influence over Myanmar. That’s plain to see in the so-called China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), a bilateral scheme that involves the construction of high-speed railways, highways and upgraded waterways along Myanmar’s rivers.

The project is seen as a crucial link in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s global infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which arguably will take on more importance in neighboring Southeast Asia as tensions rise with the US in a new Cold War.

Myanmar’s link and outlet to the Indian Ocean will provide an alternative route for China’s trade with the Middle Eat, Africa and Europe, which currently travels via vulnerable sea lanes through the contested South China Sea and congested Malacca Strait.

During a historic visit to Myanmar in January, Xi secured no less than 33 memoranda of understanding, including 13 relating to infrastructure projects, in talks with Suu Kyi and other mostly civilian officials.

Those included a multi-billion dollar plan to establish a special economic zone and industrial park near Kyaukphyu, where a deep-sea port is already being developed with Chinese investment.

Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing attends a ceremony to mark the 69th Martyrs’ Day in Yangon. Photo: AFP via Mur Photo/U Aung

Min Aung Hlaing, on the other hand, stunned many observers when he said during a visit to Moscow in June in an interview with a Russian news network that “terrorist groups” exist in Myanmar “because of the strong forces that support them.”

Although the military leader did not name any group or foreign force in particular, it was clear that he was referring to the insurgent Arakan Army (AA) in the country’s western Rakhine state which is known to be equipped with Chinese-made weapons.

In November, the Myanmar military seized a huge cache of Chinese weapons, including brand-new rocket launchers and a surface-to-air missile, from another rebel army in northern Shan state.

China’s carrot and stick policy towards Myanmar consists of loans, grants and support for anti-Covid-19 campaigns on one hand while providing some of the country’s many ethnic armies access to China’s huge, informal arms market, which is grey rather than black.

Despite the Covid-19 crisis and numerous talks between government officials, military leaders and representatives of the country’s many ethnic armed organizations, Myanmar’s civil war is raging in several border areas and it has become increasingly clear that it is being heavily influenced by China.

Initiated by former president, ex-general Thein Sein shortly after he assumed office in March 2011 and continued under the present Suu Kyi administration, the peace process has attracted rich support from the West as well as Japan.

But a national ceasefire agreement (NCA) comprises only a handful of groups, some without arms or territory under their control. The most recent peace meeting was held this month and ended with nothing more than an agreement to hold further talks about talks.

The fact remains that groups representing more than 80% of all ethnic combatants have not signed the NCA and are unlikely to do so. Those groups, seven in all, are united under the umbrella of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC). All are known to be close to China.

UWSA special force snipers participate in a military parade in the Wa State’s Panghsang, April 17, 2019. Photo: AFP/Ye Aung Thu

The most powerful of them, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), is equipped with Chinese-made assault rifles, machine-guns, mortars, surface-to-air missiles and even light armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles.

AA is a close ally and has via other FPNCC members received weapons from the UWSA. So, too, has the powerful Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the far north of the country and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, an ethnic Palaung group that operates over large swathes of territory in northern Shan state.

The West and Japan may be involved in the peace process, and Motegi may have pledged increased support for efforts to bring decades of civil war to an end. But Chinese security officials have in recent meetings with FPNCC members told them not to have any dealings with peacemakers and other officials from the West or Japan.

It is thus clear that China has no intention of giving up its big stick and that recent developments have exposed just how irrelevant other outside actors have become to the peace process.

While the West is caught in the quagmire of the Rohingya crisis and Japan is doing its utmost to maintain and develop ties with Myanmar, China still rules the roost. And that largely explains why China backs a continuation of the democratic status quo, with Suu Kyi and her NLD still in power after November’s election.

Credit: asiatimes.com

Canada, Netherlands join Gambia’s genocide case against Myanmar

The two nations will pay special attention to prosecuting gender-based violence against Rohingya, including rape.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after a brutal military crackdown in 2017 [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/ Reuters]

Canada and the Netherlands will formally join The Gambia’s legal bid to hold Myanmar accountable over allegations of genocide against its mostly-Muslim Rohingya minority in a move described by observers as historic.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and his Dutch counterpart Stef Blok said the two nations were intervening in the case before the International Court of Justice in order “to prevent the crime of genocide and hold those responsible to account”.

Calling the lawsuit “of concern to all of humanity,” Champagne and Blok said Canada and the Netherlands would “assist with the complex legal issues that are expected to arise and will pay special attention to crimes related to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape”.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, crossing the border into neighbouring Bangladesh where they now live in crowded refugee camps after the military launched a brutal crackdown in the western state.

Myanmar says the military action was a response to attacks by Rohingya armed groups in Rakhine. United Nations investigators concluded that the campaign had been executed with “genocidal intent”.

Champagne and Blok said in filing the case at the UN court, The Gambia “took a laudable step towards ending impunity for those committing atrocities in Myanmar”.

‘Historic’

The New York-based Global Center for Justice welcomed the move by Canada and the Netherlands, calling it “nothing short of historic”.

Akila Radhakrishnan, the group’s president, said: “Just as important as their intention to intervene is their promise to focus on gendered crimes of genocide like sexual and gender-based violence, which was central to the atrocities against the Rohingya.”

She added: “Too often, gendered experiences do not translate to justice and accountability efforts and leave the primary targets of those crimes – women and girls – behind. This is an important step forward to address that gap and Canada and the Netherlands should be applauded for this move.”

Rohingya groups also welcomed the move, and urged others to follow their lead.

“Slowly, but surely, the net is closing in on Myanmar’s leaders – they will not get away with this genocide,” Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK said in a statement, describing Canada and the Netherlands as being on the right side of history.

“It is imperative that other states, including the United Kingdom, now stand on the right of justice for the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar,” the statement added. “Justice is a core demand of all Rohingya people and particularly important for those inside the camps of Cox’s Bazar who have been forced to flee their homeland and live as refugees in a foreign state.” 

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi attended the initial hearings at The Hague in December last year, calling on the 17-judge panel to dismiss the case. Rejecting the genocide claims, she warned the UN judges that allowing The Gambia’s case to go ahead risked reigniting the crisis and could “undermine reconciliation”.

The panel in January ordered Myanmar to take emergency measures to protect its Rohingya population, pending the fuller case.

Myanmar will now have to regularly report on its efforts to protect Rohingya from acts of genocide every six months until a final ruling is made, a process that could take years.

Although ICJ rulings are final and binding, countries have occasionally flouted them, and the court has no formal mechanism to enforce its decisions.

Credit: www.aljazeera.com

Myanmar restarts peace talks

Myanmar is restarting stalled peace talks between the government and multiple ethnic minority groups.

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi the opened the fourth meeting of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference in the capital Nay Pyi Taw on Wednesday. 

From August 19th to the 21st,  Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, the Burmese army and several ethnic-minority groups will gather in the capital for the conference. 

These will be the last set of meetings before November’s general election. 

Multiple armed ethnic groups have been fighting for independence since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948.

Peace conference negotiations first started with the hopes of achieving a truce but talks had stalled, according to the Economist. 

So what are the goals of this next round of talks?

According to the Foreign Brief, “It is expected that the conference will encourage non-signatories to accede to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).”

The NCA was created under the previous State Counselor and promised to establish a federal system.

The groups who signed it would continue to the next phase of the peace process, which is political dialogue. 

But the Economist reports, in 2015 the army, which controls the ministries of defense, border and home affairs and 25% of the seats in Parliament, announced some would not sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement. 

Initially,  just eight armed groups, representing 20% of Myanmar’s rebel soldiers, signed the NCA.  

The army is accused of deliberately sabotaging the peace process by clashing with two groups that had signed the NCA, which led to the withdrawal of two groups in 2018, according to the Economist. 

Since January 2019, the army has also escalated fighting with an ethnic-Rakhine group.

Priscilla Clapp, a senior adviser to the Asia Society, an American think-tank tells the Economist, the army is not “pursuing peace, they’ve been pursuing conflict.”

The army’s commander-in-chief sees  Aung San Suu Kyi as a rival and is committed to Myanmar being a unitary state, controlled by the majority ethnic group, the Bamar, the Economist writes.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has also had an impact on the latest round of meetings. Fewer people are participating and the conference was reduced from five to three days. 

Key negotiators will attend but many observers and delegates won’t be present because of the pandemic. 

COVID-19 and the upcoming general election in November prompted some to suggest the conference be delayed but politicians later agreed to continue with the peace process, according to the Irrawaddy.

Credit: newsus.cgtn.com

India-Myanmar Border on High Alert After Ambush by Separatist Rebels

The ambush came amid a reshuffling of the Naga separatist movement in Myanmar.

Credit: Photo by special arrangement

Indian security forces have been put on high alert along the country’s border with Myanmar following another ambush by separatist rebels that killed three personnel of a paramilitary outfit.

An official said that “vulnerable spots” along the border in India’s Northeast have been identified and “area domination exercises” launched to prevent further attacks by the rebel groups.

In Nagaland’s Mon and Tuensang, which had been a hotbed of militancy for the past several decades, additional deployment of troops have been observed by residents in the district headquarters.

On July 29, a joint squad of three Myanmar-based separatist groups from India’s Northeast ambushed a patrolling party of Assam Rifles on the border at Sajik Tampak in Manipur’s Chandel district. A press release issued by these outfits claimed that four personnel were killed in the attack as part of the campaign against India’s “colonization” of western Southeast Asia.

Chandel has been one of the most vulnerable zones along the 1,643 kilometer long India-Myanmar border. In 2015, as many as 18 soldiers of the Indian army were killed in an ambush carried out jointly by the separatist outfits.

Across Chandel in Myanmar are at least two big camps belonging to the People’s Liberation Army (Manipur) and United National Liberation Front, which serve as a launching pad for the attacks against the Indian security forces. Both the outfits hail from Manipur’s Imphal Valley and have close ties with other separatist groups in the region.

The release mentions the involvement of a new outfit, the Manipur Naga People’s Front (MPNF), in the recent attack, fueling speculation among the Indian security agencies about new linkages that might have emerged among the groups and whether it was linked to the division in the Naga separatist movement in Myanmar.

The ambush on July 29 was preceded by two developments in Myanmar’s Naga inhabited region which is contiguous to India’s Northeast. The Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) suffered its second split in less than two years when a faction led by Niki Sumi expelled chairman Yung Aung.ADVERTISEMENT

A release cited Aung’s decision to change the official seal and his attempts to “clandestinely” establish ties with the Isak-Muivah faction of NSCN (NSCN-IM), which operates out of India’s Northeast, as the reasons for his expulsion from the outfit.

Predictably, Aung reacted by expelling Sumi and two senior functionaries from the organization on charges of convening “illegal meetings,” misappropriation of funds, encouraging “divisive policies,” and failing to report in the council headquarters after being summoned.

The entire outcome of these developments may be too early to gauge but the split will certainly weaken the separatist movement in Myanmar’s Naga inhabited zone. The unity that former chairman S. S. Khaplang had assiduously maintained could be difficult to sustain given the myriad tribes in the region. While Aung is a Pangmi Naga, Niki Sumi hails from the Sumi tribe in Nagaland and he has the support of some senior leaders from the Konyak Naga region in Myanmar.

Adding to the complexities were reports last month that the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, has deployed additional columns of the army in the remote hilly regions of Sagaing Division along the border with India. There was speculation that another offensive would be launched against the NSCN(K)’s stronghold to flush out rebels belonging to United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) from Assam in northeast India.

All the camps of the separatist outfits from India’s Northeast were dismantled in a raid last year at Taga. Several functionaries from many groups were jailed and later handed over to India. However, no operations were launched this time around and the army reportedly returned to its barracks after a couple of weeks.

An Indian government official explained that the additional deployment was triggered following Tatmadaw’s receipt of reports that a large group of the NSCN(IM) would shift base to certain locations in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division. Earlier, there had been a spate of reports in the media claiming that the NSCN(IM) had already transferred a large chunk of its weapons and cadres to camps in Myanmar from its camps in India’s Northeast.

NSCN(IM) has been engaged in a peace process with the Indian government since 1997 with the objective to reach a negotiated settlement. A “Framework Agreement” clinched in 2015 between the two sides raised the hope of an agreement, but the process has been stuck over the demands of a separate flag and constitution by the Naga group, which is unacceptable to the government.

In the last couple of months, government troops have also launched a crackdown against the outfit resulting in some encounters as well. The NSCN(IM) has accused the government of putting the peace peace in “cold storage” and it has blamed the interlocutor and Nagaland governor R. N. Ravi for the delay.

By: Rajeev Bhattacharyya
Credit: thediplomat.com

Myanmar: No flights before October

YANGON, 3 August 2020: Myanmar’s aviation authorities confirmed recently, the ban on international commercial flights to and from Myanmar would extend to 31 August, but high ranking tourism officials now say international commercial flights might not resume until October.

Myanmar’s government is not issuing visas for visitors, and the only international flights are specially arranged repatriation flights to bring back Maynmar citizens and allow foreigners to leave the country.

Officials speaking on the sidelines of the 9th Mekong Tourism Advisory Group meeting last Thursday said rules would be eased this month, but international tourism to the country would remain suspended until October including all commercial international flights.

Myanmar’s hospitality sector rely exclusively on domestic bookings to support around 1,300 hotels that have reopened in popular tourist destinations including Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake.

During long weekends and public holidays, occupancy at hotels in Mandalay and Bagan peaks at around 75% indicating the growing contribution of domestic travel that in the past has been largely overshadowed by the international travel market. Approximately, 700 hotel rooms in Yangon have been reserved for 14-day quarantine stays. 

Around 200 travel companies in Myanmar have benefited from a stimulus package introduced by the government, but financial resources for the sector are limited with most of the support going towards training classes for tour guides and tour company staff currently furloughed.

Credit: www.ttrweekly.com

A cause for hope for the Rohingya in Myanmar

Rohingya villagers watch as international media visit Maung Hna Ma village, Buthidaung township, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, July, 2017. (Reuters)

Something peculiar and unexpected happened in Myanmar in mid-July: A group of Rakhine Buddhist students visited a camp for Rohingya refugees.


This kind of thing is new. While the “clearing operations” against the Rohingya over the past two years have been orchestrated by the federal military forces of Myanmar, directed from Naypyidaw, the Rakhines had long been a primary engine of previous violent outbursts against their Rohingya neighbors in Rakhine/Arakan, such as in the 2012-13 flareups of ethnic conflict. Indeed, crackdowns on the Rohingya by federal authorities have frequently been invited and welcomed by Rakhines throughout the turbulent history of post-independence Myanmar.


What is unclear at the moment is whether the federal government in Naypyidaw is aware of these developments, or indeed whether they might even be supportive of them. What is known so far is that an apparent, concerted effort to build bridges between the communities is actively supported by younger Rakhines, particularly students. As such, it is plausible that they are working entirely outside the reach of the Myanmar federal authorities, and indeed, outside of the knowledge of local Rakhine authorities who had been so hostile to Rohingyas in the past.


But it is also the case that both Rakhine and federal authorities have been running a pretty tight ship on anti-Rohingya propaganda up to now, so the fact that this is happening at present seems odd. Given that Rohingyas are so routinely demonized as “Muslim terrorists,” and sympathy toward the “terrorists” has been suppressed in the past, the fact that this new movement from among the Rakhine youth in the state has made it through to an international audience may point to some shifts in the background as to how authorities are approaching the issue of the Rohingya. Especially since, one has to imagine, the students had to get past security at the camps.


Might this have been allowed to happen in order that the authorities in Myanmar could be able to point to “civil society efforts” as positive developments as it continues to face unrelenting criticism on the international stage, and perhaps even censure at the International Court of Justice? Might this even have been encouraged or instigated by some state or federal authorities as a PR exercise for the country?


One needs to watch these efforts closely, and actively support any real dialogue between the people of Rakhine/Arakan state. If these students are indeed leading an independent effort to change things for the better in their country, the global community should be very vocal and robust in defending them against any censure from the authorities for speaking out.

Indeed, even if this is some cynical ploy where the authorities are working in the background either to allow or actively encourage these initiatives for PR and propaganda purposes, the international community should still support the debate moving forward toward the acceptance of the Rohingya in the land of their birth, and use the opportunity to push for them receiving full rights as citizens which they are entitled to under international law.


In all cases, this is a positive development. Things will not now suddenly, or inevitably get better. The entire global community must continue to fight relentlessly for the Rohingya to be accepted as equal citizens in their own country. Nor can the global community allow the perpetrators of the genocide be left off the hook, now that the debate seems to be changing toward a more positive direction. Whatever the reason for these developments, the international community must continue to support them, but it must also make sure that it does not lose focus of all the other things that need to be done.

By: DR. AZEEM IBRAHIM
Credit: www.arabnews.com

UN charts new territory with project to track all Myanmar’s forests

This file photo taken on July 23, 2015 shows a worker looking on amid a pile of logs at a holding area along the Yangon river in Yangon. (AFP)

A new five-year project in Myanmar will for the first time document all forests in the Southeast Asian nation – including places affected by ethnic tensions – to pinpoint deforestation risks and boost conservation, the United Nations said.

The joint Myanmar-Finland project, launched this week with funding of 8 million euros ($9 million), will monitor all types of forests in an exercise aimed at helping the country reduce emissions that fuel climate change and adapt to warming impacts.

It will also serve as a basis to develop global guidelines for tracking and protecting forests in conflict zones.

“For a lot of people, Myanmar is a country with still a lot of unknowns,” said Julian Fox, team leader for national forest monitoring at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, which is managing the project.

“There are huge areas of forests that have never been measured,” Fox told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.

About 70% of Myanmar’s population living in rural areas rely on its estimated 29 million hectares (72 million acres) of forests to provide for their basic needs and services.

But Myanmar also has the third-highest deforestation rate in the world – after Brazil and Indonesia – according to the FAO, partly driven by agricultural expansion and logging activities.

Although the authorities in colonial times made efforts to map parts of the country and its forests, Fox said there had never been a complete national forest inventory.

“For accurate information on forests, you need to know many things underneath the canopy – the tree species, soil, even the social-political context,” he said by phone.

The project will measure trees – with the potential to discover new species – and monitor biodiversity and carbon-storage levels, he added.

Starting in non-conflict forest zones, before expanding into less-secure areas such as the borders with China, Bangladesh and Thailand, the project will use modern tools like laser tree-measuring equipment and collect physical samples, Fox said.

It will cover Rakhine, a state from which more than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after a military crackdown in 2017 that the United Nations has said was executed with genocidal intent. Myanmar denies that charge.

By engaging in sensitive talks with different ethnic groups and organisations on the ground, the FAO hopes to be able to monitor forest areas in higher-risk conflict zones.

Myanmar has more than 100 different ethnic groups, each with its own history, culture and language or dialect.

If methods developed and used here prove successful, they could be applied in other forested and remote conflict-affected areas worldwide seen as off limits up to now, Fox said.

“It is important that conflict sensitivity and human rights remain in the core of the forest monitoring work in order to ensure that it benefits all people, including ethnic minorities,” Finland’s ambassador to Myanmar, Riikka Laatu, said in a statement.

All results and data on Myanmar’s forests will be made publicly available, allowing both the government and different ethnic groups to better manage and protect forests, Fox said.

Nyi Nyi Kyaw, director-general of the forest department in Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, said the government was “in urgent need of better and updated data about the state of all the forests in Myanmar”.

By: THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION
Credit: www.bangkokpost.com

Afghanistan and Myanmar drown in China’s loans; Afghanistan rejects loan

China’s embarrassment Photograph:( AFP )

Coronavirus may not have been the only virus that China is responsible for. Carried through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has successfully spread the virus of debt too.

Touted as the greatest plan in modern history to revive global trade, the BRI has been the biggest vehicle for China’s chequebook diplomacy.

The loans have crippled many poor economies and now, some of them are waking up to this fact — for instance Afghanista and Myanmar.. 

China claims to have signed agreements with 138 countries. Estimates say the BRI projects will cost over a trillion dollars.

China is running this lending operation for access and power.

While many countries are already drowning in Chinese debt without realizing it, Afghanistan and Myanmar have taken the first step by rejecting Chinese loans.

China’s renewed push in Afghanistan is a curious case. At first, China wanted nothing to do with this country as ridden by violence, it made no business sense.

However, Beijing sensed an opportunity as soon as Trump said he wanted to exit Afghanistan. Ever since, China has been trying to take CPEC into Afghanistan.

But Kabul sees the pitfalls. Afghanistan’s national debt stand at over 1.3 billion dollars, and China wants to give more loans to Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani has declined the loan.

In Myanmar, the auditor general has cautioned the government against Chinese loans.

Myanmar is already busy paying back loans taken during decades of misgovernance under the military junta. But, Myanmar is firmly in China’s grip. So, saying no to chinese loans won’t be easy…

China is Myanmar’s largest lender, and its biggest trading partner.

Myanmar’s current national debt stands at 10 billion dollars — 40 percent of this debt is already owed to China.

From 1988 to 2010, China gave out massive loans to Myanmar. These loans have been coming due since 2018, and Myanmar is paying back around 500 million dollars per year, including principal and four percent interest rate.

This is a classic example of China’s preadatory lending.

The auditor general has pointed out that loans from China come at higher interest rates compared to loans from financial institutions like the world bank or the IMF. He said, “I would like to remind government ministries to be more restrained in using Chinese loans.”

However, will the government listen?

In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi agreed to speed up projects under the BRI. This resulted in 33 agreements, from mega power projects to railways.

Myanmar has already suffered once, it must not repeat the mistake again.

China’s gameplan

Chinese financial institutions lend money for BRI projects. Construction contracts are awarded to mostly Chinese firms.

A Chinese company receives much of the proceeds of the loan and then projects tend to suffer delays or cancellations. There are corruption concerns, and the host country ends up with a massive pile of debt.

Edited By:  Palki Sharma

Credit: www.wionews.com

SK Telecom sends cyber experts to Myanmar amid national SOC development

South Korean provider also targets expansion through Vietnam and Thailand

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) of Myanmar has moved to bolster cyber prevention and defence capabilities through a security-focused partnership with SK Telecom.

Terms of the contract will see the South Korean provider deploy a team of cyber security specialists to Myanmar to consult on the “design and establishment” of a security operation centre (SOC) at the government agency until the end of July.

Leveraging SK Telecom’s ‘Smart Guard’ solution, the team will attempt to diagnose security vulnerabilities within NCSC’s existing cyber security infrastructure, alongside offering infrastructure security management guidance and advice.

This is in addition to the provision of SIEM (security information and event management) offerings developed by Korean security specialist Igloo Security. The solution will “collect and analyse” information – such as logs, errors and hacking – generated by diverse systems including servers, network equipment and applications.

“We are pleased to establish our SOC with SK Telecom’s advanced technology and know-how in infrastructure security,” said Ko Ye Naing Moe, director of NCSC. “We will work closely with SK Telecom to better protect Myanmar’s national intelligence and intelligence resources.”

Operating as an agency under the Ministry of Transport and Communications in Myanmar, NCSC is tasked with safeguarding national intelligence against cyber threats, including hacking and distributed denial-of-service (DDos) attacks, as well as protecting the nation’s information and communication networks.

“SK Telecom will work closely with the NCSC to build a sophisticated security operation system in Myanmar to strengthen its protection against the ever-increasing cyber threats,” said Shim Sang-soo, vice president of Infra Business at SK Telecom. “Going forward, armed with strong cyber security capabilities, we will seek further business opportunities in other Asian markets.”

Following the export of services to Myanmar – which Sang-soo said serves as a “strategic hub” connecting the emerging ASEAN markets – SK Telecom expects to expand security reach across other Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam and Thailand.

Credit: sg.channelasia.tech

Pandemic Adds New Threat for Rohingyas in Myanmar

Burmese Authorities Are Using Covid-19 Response Measures as a Pretext to Harass and Extort Rohingyas

This is what life is like for the 130,000 internally displaced Rohingyas trapped in detention camps in central Rakhine state in Myanmar: in the camps, they have no future, with little access to land or livelihoods. They depend on foreign aid supplies and die of treatable diseases because of limited access to healthcare. Shelters, built in 2012 to last two years, have deteriorated. Most children can only attend basic classes at temporary learning spaces.

Burmese authorities are using Covid-19 response measures as a pretext to harass and extort Rohingyas and are doubling down on a system in which they are already effectively incarcerating the population. Rohingyas in the camps told Human Rights Watch that military and police forces regularly subject them to harassing physical punishment at checkpoints. One Rohingya woman said the police made her do sit-ups for 30 minutes for not wearing a mask through a checkpoint, after which she was too exhausted to move. Another man witnessed people being forced to perform squats at a checkpoint with their hands on their ears.

Last week, the government of Myanmar delivered its much-anticipated first report to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – following the court’s unanimous January 23 provisional measures order – explaining what it has done to protect the 600,000 ethnic Rohingyas in Rakhine state, whom a United Nations-backed fact-finding body said remain under threat of genocide.

The reality on the ground for the Rohingyas is dire: “oppressive and systemic restrictions” imposed on those remaining in Rakhine state, which may be indicative of ongoing genocide. The government established the camps following a campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against Rohingyas in central Rakhine state in 2012. Almost eight years later, they remain in de facto detention camps surrounded by fences, police, and military.

Myanmar has a long history of creating hollow committees and commissions to appease critics, thwart genuine international scrutiny, and diffuse pressure to reform. But the ICJ’s judges made clear that Myanmar must show “concrete measures aimed specifically at recognizing and ensuring the right of the Rohingya to exist as a protected group under the Genocide Convention.”

In recent interviews with Human Rights Watch, displaced Rohingyas in the Sittwe camps described a familiar array of social distancing requirements, frequent handwashing, and mask wearing, all of which also apply to the general population of Myanmar. The consequences for noncompliance are less familiar.

A Rohingya woman told us that Rohingyas are not allowed to cross Sittwe checkpoints without a mask and are fined or receive ad hoc punishments if they aren’t wearing one. Yet the authorities have not provided enough face masks to Rohingyas in the camps. Several camp residents told us that an entire family must share a mask because they could not afford to buy one for each family member.

There is no guarantee that following the Covid-19 rules protects people from extortion. One Rohingya man said, “Police fine people even though they are wearing a mask…they took the money from a man’s pocket, like 20,000” kyat ($14) – a sizeable sum considering many displaced people only receive approximately 15,000 kyat ($11) per month from the UN World Food Program in lieu of food rations.

Rakhine state, one of the poorest in Myanmar, is ill-prepared to handle a Covid-19 outbreak, but the health risks are even higher for displaced Rohingyas in overcrowded and squalid camps. Those in need of medical referrals to Sittwe General Hospital struggle to obtain permission to leave the camps, even in urgent cases. One Rohingya man said that a township official told him that “If people are affected [by Covid-19], you have to get treatment in the camps. They will not be allowed to the hospital.”

But the camps neither have Covid-19 testing nor the capacity to address complex medical cases. This failure to provide an adequate health response is underlined by Myanmar’s nationwide “Action Plan for the Control of Covid-19 Outbreak at IDP Camps,” which does not include testing or plans for the country’s internally displaced people.

Myanmar may point to its recent presidential directives aimed at preventing genocide, preserving evidence, and deterring hate speech as signs of progress in carrying out the ICJ’s order.

But donor governments, the UN, and others wondering about Myanmar’s compliance with the court’s provisional measures order should consider this: The tightening restrictions and increased scope for extortion mean that if Rohingyas need treatment for Covid-19, they may have to forgo food to buy a mask.

Even with a mask, they may still undergo harassment, fines, and physical punishment at multiple checkpoints, only to find that the main clinic in the camps – the only place they can get medical assistance – cannot test them or provide adequate care. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, as well as the fighting between government forces and ethnic armed groups across Rakhine state, threats to the lives and liberty of the Rohingyas remaining in Myanmar are only increasing.

Compliance with the ICJ’s order means Myanmar urgently needs to take real steps to dismantle the oppressive framework that has targeted the remaining Rohingyas inside Rakhine state and promote and protect the rights that they have long been denied. Anything less would be contributing to the Rohingyas’ destruction.

Credit: www.hrw.org