US ratchets up pressure on Myanmar’s military after its bloodiest weekend since the coup

“The Biden administration is stepping up its actions to punish Myanmar’s ruling military junta in the wake of a bloody weekend targeting civilians protesting against the February military coup.

On Saturday, the military commemorated Armed Forces Day by killing about 140 people — including six children — in 44 cities and towns amid nationwide peaceful protests, according to local reports and activists. One of the children, 11-year-old Aye Myat Thu, was buried with her drawings and toys as her family mourned beside her.

Thousands of people also fled into neighboring Thailand to escape the violence.

It’s the largest number of people killed in a single day since the military ousted the country’s democratic government in a February 1 coup. Some 500 people have been killed in total since the military seized control.

Pressure from the international community on Myanmar’s military to relinquish control has been growing, with the United Nations special rapporteur for the country recently calling the junta’s campaign “mass murder.””

“On Monday, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that the Biden administration would “suspend all US trade engagement” with Myanmar that occurs under a 2013 bilateral trade agreement. That won’t stop all $1.4 billion in trade between the two countries, but it will curb the trade relationship, namely by ending US support for initiatives that helped Myanmar integrate back into the world economy.

That may not seem like much, but experts on Myanmar’s conflict like Cornell University’s Darin Self say the move “will sting” because “cutting off trade is meaningful.””

Biden announces sanctions on Myanmar’s military in response to the coup

“President Joe Biden has announced that the United States is imposing sanctions on Myanmar’s military following its overthrow of the country’s civilian leadership in a coup last week.

“Biden detailed a three-pronged response his administration would be pursuing. The first is an executive order that imposes sanctions on the military leaders who organized and launched the coup, as well as their business interests and close family members.”

“The Biden administration will also block the regime from accessing its roughly $1 billion held in the US, though American funding for civil society groups and the most vulnerable will continue. And it will impose new export controls and freeze unnamed assets that could benefit Myanmar’s military-led government.”

“For Biden to end these reprimands, he said the military should relinquish the power it seized and allow Myanmar to go back to the more democratic government it overthrew.”

“Myanmar has toggled between military and civilian leadership since 1948, though the Tatmadaw, as the country’s armed forces are formally known, has remained the most powerful institution the entire time. The US and other nations thus placed sanctions on Myanmar for decades, hoping those punishments would compel the generals to enact pro-democracy reforms and stop abusing human rights.

They worked, at least for a time. Suu Kyi, under house arrest since 1989 for leading a pro-democracy movement against the military, was finally released in 2010. Then the junta gave up some of its control in 2011 and governed alongside Suu Kyi’s NLD.

That arrangement was quasi-democratic at best”

“the NLD grew popular, trouncing the military’s political arm during the 2015 legislative election — leading the US to lift sanctions the following year — and then again in 2020. It proved Suu Kyi and her pro-democracy party were not only popular, but also had a mandate to strip the military of its autocratic authorities. It helped that the US and other countries lifted the sanctions due to Suu Kyi’s leadership.
That in part led her to seek bolder reforms. In March 2020, for example, Suu Kyi proposed reducing the number of allocated seats for military officers in Parliament. She received majority support for the measure in the legislature — but the Tatmadaw vetoed the move.

Ultimately, Suu Kyi’s growing influence and threat to the military’s hold on power led the Tatmadaw to launch a coup, hours before a new NLD-led Parliament was scheduled to sit for the first time.”

Myanmar and Russia show the limits of Biden’s pro-democracy agenda

“these two international crises highlight a major challenge Biden will face over the next four years, just as other presidents before him did: how to support democratic movements in places where the US doesn’t have actually much leverage, and where doing so could end up hurting the very movements the US wants to support.

In Myanmar, the US has few options to push the ruling generals to reverse course, especially since it provides almost no financial assistance to the government. As for Russia, any American effort to bolster democracy in and around it is viewed as a threat to be stamped out and delegitimized. Last October, shortly after the Kremlin poisoned and nearly killed Navalny, Putin’s regime claimed the dissident worked with the CIA.

American leaders with high hopes of ushering in a more democratic future inevitably run into the harsh reality of their limitations and the opposing forces working against them. “Every administration for the last 30 years has struggled with this,” said Erin Snider, an expert on US democracy promotion at Texas A&M University.

Myanmar and Russia, then, show the Biden administration is already in the thick of this dilemma.”

“Biden is also looking into the possibility of placing economic sanctions on Myanmar in the coming weeks. But while that would potentially give the US additional leverage over the military generals ruling the country, it could backfire.

That’s because some experts have warned that doing so could end up increasing authoritarian China’s already immense economic influence in Myanmar while pushing out democratic countries like South Korea and Japan, which have worked to develop economic and military ties to the country and break China’s “stranglehold” there.

And though China has had a complicated relationship with Myanmar’s military regime, it’s unlikely closer ties between the two countries will bode well for Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement — or for the Biden administration’s efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the region.”

“it’s not clear the US actually has many ways of successfully pushing Russia to change. The Kremlin rejects any efforts at democratization in Russia and its surroundings, while pro-democracy groups like Navalny’s get stamped out the second they become overly threatening. The best way to punish Russia would be to get European nations to curb ties with Moscow, but that’s always proven hard for any US administration to do.

No one expects Biden, or any US administration, to depose autocrats and usher in full-blown democracies over his four or even eight years. At most, the US can move the needle a little bit so that, over time, a country liberalizes so organic democracy movements can grow. But even incremental progress requires trade-offs, ones that require the president and his team to assess how much they value a foreign nation’s democratic leanings against everything else.”

U.S. warns Myanmar’s military it’ll be punished for coup

“According to reports from the region, the Myanmar military has taken into custody several top civilian leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and democracy activist whose political party has won recent elections. In a televised statement, the military said that it had taken control of the country and declared a state of emergency for one year.

The military has been unhappy with the outcome of elections in November in which Suu Kyi’s party did well, while the military-backed party fared relatively poorly. The military is alleging voter fraud. Myanmar’s new parliament was due to convene Monday for its first session.

In a statement late Sunday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the United States is “alarmed” by the reports.

“The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition,” Psaki said, adding that the U.S. “will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed.””