Some thoughts on the Myanmar coup – by Sandy Yule
On 1 February, 2021, it was shocking to learn that the Myanmar military, led by General Min Aung Hlaing, did not act like a national army, defending the people and constitution of Myanmar. Instead, they sought to install themselves as the government, imprisoning those recently elected to form the new government of the country.
The lack of any defensible reason for this coup can be seen in the initial charge against Aung San Suu Kyi, that she ‘illegally imported six walkie-talkie sets’.
One report informed us that, as part of this coup, existing criminals in prison were released in order to make room in prison for the newly elected government members. The released prisoners were then set upon demonstrators. Such are the alliances favoured by military dictators.
It seems that the generals were surprised that the people did not accept their action as legitimate, with spontaneous and continuing demonstrations across the country.
The serious impact of these demonstrations rests on the fact that, beyond street protests, many agents of government walked off the job, most notably the doctors and nurses who collectively closed the government hospitals.
The suppression of this resistance is growing increasingly harsh, with violence regularly used against demonstrators, with many injured and over sixty people dead - and counting.
While this repression does not yet equate with notorious historical acts of genocide, it is, spiritually speaking, of a piece with these atrocious acts.
Those of us watching from the safety of other places can only marvel at the bravery and self-sacrifice of those continuing to demonstrate and resist.
I was personally grateful for the Zoom conversation organized by the Australian and Indonesian SCMs and including members of the Myanmar SCM and others. There was opportunity for solidarity in the face of oppression and suffering.
In the Zoom conversation, I was impressed by the analysis from Mr. Rekson Silaban, who noted the presence in Myanmar of Chinese and western business enterprises and pointed to the role of the Chinese and Russian governments in frustrating any action at the UN Security Council. Military coups frequently canvass support (or at least, non-interference) from neighbouring countries with the power and potential appetite to intervene, though evidence of a role such as this for China or Russia has not emerged as yet.
We can also speculate that the coup was motivated by the fact that the incoming elected government in Myanmar was threatening to introduce laws designed to improve the conditions of workers, as well as a concern for the management of the resources of Myanmar for the benefit of the people of Myanmar. These matters used to be under the control of the military until quite recently.
None of this gives the military any grounds for rejecting the results of a national election.
In the Zoom conversation, I was also pleased to hear from Ms. Fanny Chung, Interim Regional Coordinator of WSCF Asia/Pacific, originally from Hong Kong, but now based in Seoul. She pointed out the similarities she saw with the recent protest movement in Hong Kong, noting in particular the importance of not having a centralised structure for organizing demonstrations and resistance. This makes it harder for authorities to deal with protests, though it does require a high level of commitment from a large swathe of the population.
We should be grateful for the critical responses from a range of governments, including the recent Australian government decision to suspend co-operation with the Myanmar military. The future of government in Myanmar is now in the balance, with an uncertain outcome. This is not a time for decreasing the pressure on the coup leaders and the world community for a better future for Myanmar.
10 March 2021
Rev. Dr. Sandy Yule is a retired Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church in Australia. He was General Secretary of the Australian Student Christian Movement (1970-75). He is married to Fay, with two children (Rebecca and Martin) and five grandchildren (Finn, Zoe, Emily, Chloe and Amy). He has been a minister in Fitzroy and Carlton in Victoria, lectured in philosophy and theology in Melbourne and Tonga, and was Secretary of the Christian Unity Working Group of the UCA Assembly from 2004 to 2012.
Sandy's doctoral thesis at Princeton Theological Seminary was entitled ‘Ideas of God: Some Dialogues’. He is the author of two books, ‘Making Peace, Making Sense’ (WSCF Asia-Pacific Book 14, 1988) and ‘The Burning Mirror’ (ISPCK, 2005). These works can be accessed at his web site: sandyyule.com