Fight or flight response to Myanmar draft – Asian Media Report

Mar 2, 2024
2021 Myanmar Armed Forces Day

In Asian media this week: Conscription law sparking Thailand exodus. Plus: Rich West building fences against the Rest; Pakistan poll-rigging whistleblower arrested; Economist says Hong Kong glory days over; Indonesian election ‘one of the darkest days’; High price paid for saving the tiger.

Myanmar’s recent imposition of military conscription for younger people threatens to cause a massive movement of people to Thailand, according to an essay in the Myanmar-exile news site, The Irrawaddy.

If 5 per cent of those eligible to be drafted decided to flee, more than 300,000 people could end up waiting on Thailand’s doorstep, overwhelming that country’s border management systems and making human trafficking more likely.

Singapore-based political scientist Surachanee Sriyai says in the essay Thailand is the most plausible exit point, if not destination. “While we cannot be sure how many… will choose to flee the country and cross the border into Thailand, a forecast figure should already raise the alarm for the Thai government,” she says.

A feature article in the South China Morning Post says that for many of the people affected it’s a case of fight or flight – join the resistance forces or flee the country.

It points out that Thailand does not have an asylum system for the protection of refugees. Hundreds of young people have been detained after sneaking across the border. This is a warning of the potential for a larger exodus in the future.

Bangkok Post reports that Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has warned that Myanmar nationals who enter Thailand illegally will face legal action.

The paper says the Thai embassy in Myanmar has announced on its Facebook page that it will accept only 400 visa applications a day.

Frontier Myanmar, another exile website, carries an AFP report that says people start to queue at the embassy from midnight. Police open the security gates at 3am and people run to the front of the embassy to get in place for a numbered ticket.

The Myanmar government has started a conscription propaganda campaign, The Irrawaddy reports, using posters, fliers, pep talks and threats.

“[It] is unlikely to convince young people to serve in the military because so many of them are fleeing, or plan to flee,” the story says.

Western protectionism ushers in de-globalisation

Multi-pronged protectionism is a serious fault line in the division between the West and the Rest.

Former central banker Andrew Sheng, a distinguished fellow with Hong Kong University’s Asia Global Institute, says the rich West is turning inwards and building fences along trade, finance, digital, migration and military lines.

“The irony is that the West is dismantling the global free trade order that it created and propounded, even as the Rest is pushing for more trade and opening,” Sheng says in a column published by The Korea Herald and the South China Morning Post.

“The Rest has bought into regional trade blocs…The US is not a member of these regional groups and neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have appetite for major trade reforms.”

Sheng says a US National Intelligence Report in 2021 looked ahead to five scenarios for 2040: shared global challenges; fragmentation; disequilibrium; contestation and adaptation.

“With global supply chains de-coupling and de-risking, the fragmentation scenario of de-globalisation looks more and more likely,” he says. “Is Asia prepared for such a de-globalisation scenario?”

Sheng’s column appeared at the same time as the World Trade Organisation’s 13th ministerial conference, held in Abu Dhabi.

A Bloomberg analysis published in The Japan Times said excitement ahead of the meeting was well under control.

“The question is not whether this once-important gathering will fail, but if it will fail in a way that is even worth noticing,” the article, written by senior columnist Clive Crook, said.

He said the WTO could not be restored as a forum for economic co-operation unless the US resumed its leadership role. But both the Trump and Biden administrations were hostile to the organisation.

“The US’s refusal to appoint members to the organisation’s appellate body has shut down the most crucial part of its system for resolving disputes,” Crook said.

Deep state might have to deal with Khan

Pakistan, says retired Indian major-general Harsha Kakkar, never ceases to amaze.

In last month’s national elections, results were delayed by days, to select candidates backed by Pakistan’s generals.

Mobile services were shut down to enable rigging. And a politician who won in provincial elections from a Karachi seat stepped down, saying the result had been rigged.

A senior official, Liaquat Ali Chattha, resigned, admitting votes had been tampered with to block candidates linked to imprisoned former prime minister Imran Khan. The whistleblower was subsequently arrested and was “convinced” to reconsider his accusation.

Writing in India’s The Statesman newspaper, Kakkar says Liaquat Chattha issued a denial sent by email from an unknown location. He is still missing.

“The world is well aware that the elections were rigged,” he says.

An editorial in The Hindu newspaper says, blandly: “There was no level playing field in Pakistan’s general elections.”

The alliance formed to govern the country is in many ways a replica of the previous coalition government, which presided over an inflation rate of 30 per cent. The economy is run on a $US 3 billion lifeline the IMF has provided, the paper says.

The Straits Times carries a long analytical piece by senior columnist Ravi Velloor. He says in Pakistan people use a phrase – “ king’s parties” – to refer to political groupings covertly propped up by the military-led deep state.

“These typically tend to do well at the hustings,” Velloor says.

“An old saw has it that while most nations have a military, in Pakistan the military has a state. But it is becoming impossible for the ‘fauj’, as the military is known, to ignore public sentiments.

“At the very least that will soon require accommodation with Khan.”

City fan becomes ‘uncomfortable naysayer’

Noted economist Stephen Roach has a stern message for the people of Hong Kong: the city’s glory days may be over.

Roach, who once lived in Hong Kong and who remains a frequent visitor, acknowledges the city has been written off frequently in the past. But he thinks resilience now is highly unlikely.

He delivered his sad prognosis in an opinion piece in the Financial Times and repeated it in an explanatory article in the South China Morning Post during the week.

He gave three reasons for his conclusion: the loss of a high degree of political autonomy; a weakening of the city’s economic underpinnings because of the malaise in China’s economy; and a squeeze caused by the US move to “friend shoring”.

“Resilience this time will require a new-found political and economic policy autonomy that seems highly unlikely,” he wrote.

Roach, a Yale academic and former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, began his explanation by saying: “I love Hong Kong. Yet I now find myself in the uncomfortable position as a naysayer.”

He hoped that by raising questions about the future he was issuing a “good trouble” wake-up call.

SCMP reported in a news story that Xinhua, China’s official news agency, accused “so-called experts” of spreading false claims to achieve their sinister plot of using Hong Kong to contain China.

Xinhua cited official data showing more than 9,000 overseas and mainland companies were operating in the city last year – a level comparable with pre-pandemic times.

The paper quoted local political heavyweight Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee as saying Roach had made the same mistake as others before him who declared Hong Kong dead.

“A city’s fortunes might rise and ebb in line with historic, geopolitical change like Rome,” Ip said. “Can you declare Rome a ‘dead cat’? The eternal city lives on, so will Hong Kong.”

Democracy now a way of preserving power

The victory of Prabowo Subianto and Gibran Rakabuming Raka in last month’s Indonesia elections has been met with less-than-universal acclaim.

This is not surprising as Prabowo is detested in human rights’ academic and NGO circles and Gibran was on the ballot only through family influence. But the disdain expressed in a commentary in The Jakarta Post is striking.

The article, by social and political policy academic Tauchid Komara Yuda, says the victory could mark one of the darkest days in post-Reform Indonesia.

Meddling and lobbying by President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo is fresh in people’s minds, Yuda says.

“The unholy circle behind Prabowo’s apparent success presents a paradox regarding how the new administration will address stubborn issues such as corruption, collusion and nepotism,” he says.

The Prabowo-Gibran campaign resembled the strategy of Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos and Sara Duterte in the Philippines.

“The two presidential pairs tried not only to wipe out their peoples’ collective memory of past dictatorships and human rights abuses but also to deliberately create a new wave of political participation that strayed from the usual tense politics,” Yuda says.

“…[d]emocracy is no longer about preventing the worst from ruling but enabling one to preserve power.”

Widodo presented Prabowo during the week with a top military honour – the title of Honorary Indonesian National Army General., the Asian Catholic news site, said Widodo was criticised by advocacy groups and families of victims of rights abuses.

The Civil Society Coalition said the award violated the feelings of victims and betrayed the 1998 Reformation, reported.
Prabowo was discharged from the army in 1998, following allegations of human rights abuses. He was accused of kidnapping political activists.

Human price of wildlife success story

India has done an exemplary job in handling a difficult task: saving the tiger.

Fifty years ago, the country had fewer than 300 of the big cats. At that time, then-prime minister Indira Gandhi launched a rejuvenation plan called Project Tiger; now the number has reached more than 3,000.

A story in Singapore’s The Straits Times said in the same time the tiger had become functionally extinct in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

But in India there seemed to be an increase in human-wildlife encounters. “In just one state in the west, Maharashtra, official date showed 39 people were killed in human-wildlife incidents in 2019,” the article said.

“Just three years later, in 2022, that number had leapt to 105. The majority of deaths were from encounters with tigers.”

The article, written by distinguished journalist Nirmal Ghosh, who is also a trustee of a tiger reserve foundation, said success in increasing tiger numbers had come at a price.

“While tiger tourism has burgeoned into a multimillion-dollar industry, local people on the fringes of tiger habitats have seen little benefit,” he wrote.

“Poverty remains widespread. There is nothing particularly romantic about living in the wilderness and… residents often must rely on the jungle both as a source of fuel and as a toilet, risking encounters with wildlife.”

Ghosh said better habitat management, including restoring degraded forests, was necessary.

He rejected hunting as a solution. “Opening up hunting in India will reverse one of the world’s greatest success stories in wildlife conservation,” he said.

“It will also be a surrender to our most craven instincts, reducing a revered and totemic species to the thrill-seeking whims of a few.”

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