Anti-junta forces control Myanmar borders – Asian Media Report

Apr 13, 2024
Flag of Myanmar painted on cracked dirty wall. National pattern on vintage style surface.

In Asian media this week: Resistance has regime capital in its sights. Plus: Japan, US, boost Tokyo’s anti-Beijing role; International law ‘backs China’ in islands’ disputes; Tech giants will not solve climate change, social injustice; South Korea voters deliver rebuff to president; Given a chance, Chinese and American folk like each other.

Anti-junta forces in Myanmar have capped a five-month dry-season offensive by capturing the town of Myawaddy, located on the most important border crossing with Thailand.

A report by seasoned correspondent Luke Hunt said the campaign was mounted by 20 ethnic armed organisations (known as EAOs), including the Karen National Liberation Army and the People’s Defence Force, the armed wing of the opposition National Unity Government.

The resistance forces had recorded spectacular victories against the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, Hunt said in a story for the Catholic Asian news site.

Myawaddy, which shares a border crossing with Thailand’s Mae Sot, is a key transit point. About $US1.1 billion worth of trade passes through the border each year.

The town fell to the resistance forces overnight Wednesday-Thursday, after five days of heavy fighting. The defending battalion fled before 400 reinforcements, with 10 armoured personnel carriers, could arrive.

Bangkok Post reported about 200 Tatmadaw troops had retreated to the bridge linking Myawaddy and Mae Sot. It quoted local news outlet Khit Thit as saying Thai authorities were still deciding whether to grant them refuge.

The Thai army had stepped up security, the Post said, deploying vehicles with roof-mounted machine guns.

The paper reported that Thailand was prepared to accept 100,000 refugees escaping the fighting in Myanmar.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said earlier in the week that the Myanmar military regime was weakening, The Irrawaddy, a Myanmar exile news site, reported. The comment was unusually frank, it said.

The report said the resistance militias had now blocked the junta from the country’s borders and had to decide whether to use the remaining weeks of the dry season to pursue the military into the centre of the country – and the corridor linking the main city of Yangon with the capital, Naypyidaw. The wet season typically starts by the end of May.

“The militias don’t have much time,” an analyst said. “They can either press home the advantage and attack Yangon and the capital or wait until November and the next dry season.

“Either way, [they] have proved they can defeat the military.”

Japan ‘takes leading part’ in containment strategy

Japan and the US are upgrading their defence ties, to strengthen Tokyo’s role in countering China.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida this week made a state visit to Washington, where he and President Joe Biden unveiled some 70 new agreements.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper said the two nations would boost co-operation on a range of issues, including national security, economic interests and advanced technology.

It said their armed forces would strengthen interoperability and improve their command and control frameworks.

The two leaders confirmed Japan was considering how it could co-operate with AUKUS, focusing on advanced technologies, including AI.

They also said Japan, the US and Britain would start joint training exercises next year.

The two countries were entering a new era for their defence alliance, The Japan Times said.

It linked the upgraded ties to concerns over China’s military moves around Taiwan and North Korea’s increasingly belligerent sabre-rattling.

China’s official Global Times newspaper said Japan was no longer simply following US efforts to contain and suppress China but was taking on a leading role.

It said the US visit was a “life-saving straw” for Kishida, who was facing domestic political problems.

The paper said: “The US naturally welcomes Japan’s performance, which goes beyond its expectation, while also granting Japan greater military autonomy as a ‘reward’, by enhancing the position of the US-Japan alliance.

“Some people in Japan are therefore delighted, believing this signifies the US-Japan alliance is moving toward ‘equality’ and is evidence of Japan’s status as a major power.”

Archive study sheds legal light on South China Sea rows

A book by a Western professor of international law offers a fresh take on disputed islands in the South China Sea – that a study of French and British archives shows the Paracel (Xisha) and Spratly (Nansha) Islands in the South China Sea are Chinese.

The book, The History and Sovereignty of the South China Sea, by Anthony Carty, has been published in Chinese and an English version is due soon.

Carty has held chairs in law schools in Britain, Hong Kong and Beijing.

In an interview with the Global Times, an official Chinese newspaper, Carty says he studied French and British archives going from the 1880s to the 1970s. He says they show it is the view of British and French legal experts that, as a matter of international law, these islands are Chinese territory.

“The Chinese claims and activities on the islands far exceeded in intensity those of any other country during the period, except for the French…which, in any case, subsequently withdrew,” Carty says.

“From the classical Western international law point of view, this is very significant.

Carty says the French (who had colonised Vietnam) never completed an occupation of the Spratlys and they recognised they had always been home to Chinese fishermen. There had never been any Vietnamese or Philippine connection.

“It’s not up to China to do whatever is necessary diplomatically to calm the nerves of its neighbours,” he says. “It’s up to all of these countries to accept the rule of law and the rule of law says that the islands are Chinese.

“The best strategy for China is just to keep cool.”

Footnote (1): Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reports that India has backed the Philippines in its South China Sea dispute with China but says this was aimed at strengthening India’s position in its border dispute with China.

Footnote (2): SCMP also reports that a former spokesman for former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says there was gentleman’s agreement with China that Manila would not send repair materials to a disputed shoal. President Ferdinand Marcos Junior says he is horrified to learn of a secret agreement that would compromise Philippine sovereignty.

Nightmares to follow beautiful dreams

The world is bedevilled by winner-takes-all competition across technology, geopolitics and education, says eminent economist Andrew Sheng.

America’s so-called Magnificent Seven tech stocks represent the cutting edge of the raw capitalist drive for value, speculation and state intervention, he says in a column distributed by the Asia News Network and published by The Korea Herald.

“So far, America is happy to accept high tech company price-earnings ratios way above historical average levels, so that innovators can ‘monetise their technology’,” he says. “Essentially, the 2000 Nasdaq tech boom gave American policymakers the experience not to fear tech-bubble busts, since that episode did not lead to any consequences for the economy,” he says.

Sheng, distinguished fellow of Hong Kong University’s Asia Global Institute, says that governments today have to deal with a complex nexus of slow GDP growth, planetary injustice (carbon emissions, biodiversity loss, pollution and natural disasters), social injustice (widening social, income, wealth and security levels) as well as the speed of tech disruption.

He quotes Sydney University professors Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg as saying corporate capitalism relies on the maintenance of business as usual.

“This implies that if the corporate sector cannot solve climate change and social inequalities, the two existential issues of our time, the state must step in,” Sheng says.

“In the new tech rentier game, the tech giants will have captive customers who subscribe to their AI software and data centres that allow them to algorithmically influence their spending behaviour. [But] if everyone can spend like the average American, we would need 5.1 Earths.

“The Magnificent Seven do not have such a mission to change that trajectory.

“Enjoy the tech bubble while it lasts. Just as night follows day, nightmares follow beautiful dreams.”

South Korea policy gridlock confirmed

The liberal main opposition party in South Korea, the Democratic Party of Korea, won a landslide victory in this week’s parliamentary elections. It is the DPK’s third victory in a row and a stern rebuff for President Yoon Suk Yeol.

The DPK won 175 seats, out of 300. The conservative People Power Party gained 108 seats. Collectively, opposition parties won more than 190 seats.

The Korea Times said the opposition victory meant Yoon would be the first president under the current electoral system, set up in 1987, to face a hostile Assembly throughout his five-year term.

The elections were widely seen as a mid-term referendum on Yoon’s performance, the paper said. Yoon is approaching two years in office.

The progressive opposition bloc could exert power over Yoon by fast-tracking bills and blocking filibusters, the paper said.

In a separate story, the paper said the opposition’s parliamentary dominance had forced Yoon to use presidential decrees to implement his policies. The policy gridlock was expected to persist until he left office.

“Yoon has struggled to maintain strong control over state affairs,” said Cho Jin-man, a politics professor at Duksung Women’s University.

“The defeat will force the ruling party to reassess its relationship with the president, bicker over who is responsible for the defeat and shift the focus to the party’s next leadership. All these factors are poised to create difficult circumstances for Yoon.”

People-to-people contact underlines common humanity

When American academic Nancy Qian recently took a group of students to China she found that in Shanghai their guide had hosted only one other US college group and she expected only one more for the rest of the year.

It was a big drop from the 30-plus groups she booked each year before the COVID-19 pandemic. “The number of Americans travelling to China, which plummeted during the pandemic, has been slow to recover,” Qian said.

Qian, an economics professor at Chicago’s Northwestern University, said this meant opportunities to generate empathy between Chinese and American people were rare.

“The results are increasingly apparent,” she said in an article distributed by the Project Syndicate expert writers’ group and published by the South China Morning Post. “In US opinion polls, only 15 per cent of respondents viewed China favourably in 2023, down from 53 per cent in 2018 and from 72 per cent in 1989.”

Qian asked the students what stood out most from their trip. Some mentioned the country’s transport systems and cleanliness and the sophistication of the economy. Others talked of the poverty amid the glamour of Shanghai and Hong Kong. Many noted the constant presence of government surveillance.

“But all had been pleasantly surprised by their in-person encounters and meetings with Chinese people from all walks of life,” she wrote. “They found the Chinese people to be warm and even humble.

“Everywhere we went, people told me that my students were a breath of fresh air – just as fun and open and they remembered Americans to be.

“Chinese and Americans must not lose sight of their common humanity. The greater the tension between their governments, the more important this becomes.”

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