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Report No. 2 | February 2021

Darkness at Dawn The Myanmar Coup and Its Aftermath

On February 1, the Myanmar military, also known as the Tatmadaw, staged a coup d'état and imposed a one-year state of “emergency.” It has also jailed prominent leaders including State Counsellor Aung Sun Suu Kyi and appears to be increasingly comfortable with repressing ensuing protests using extreme force. In the process, the Tatmadaw has significantly imperiled Myanmar’s slow but steady democratic transition, created considerable complications for Western as well as regional powers, including China, and stands to also fuel the country’s ethnic conflicts. Furthermore, the power-grab sits on top of a rapid decline in democratic norms across Southeast Asia in general and portends ill for the future of democracy in the region. Western powers are unlikely to have ready instruments at hand to compel the Tatmadaw into reversing its moves. Growing China-U.S. rivalry is also likely to act as a geopolitical shield for the insular military regime which has, historically, been suspicious of Beijing.

In this edition of the DRI Monthly Report, six prominent experts and long-time specialists in Asian affairs examine the various factors that are likely to shape what would follow the February putsch. The report examines Myanmar’s internal politics, political economy, ethnic conflicts, and relations with neighboring major powers China and India, as well as ASEAN.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary
5
Introduction
6
Myanmar Between Populism and Putsch
10
Myanmar’s Protracted Ethnic Conflicts
14
Myanmar’s Political Economy
18
Strategic Implications of the Myanmar Coup for China
23
India’s Interests in Myanmar
27
Myanmar and Democracy in Southeast Asia
31
The Authors
35

The Authors

Lee Jones

Lee Jones is a reader in international politics at Queen Mary University of London. He has published widely on the politics, political economy and international relations of Myanmar and frequently advises the U.K. government on the country. He is co-editor of The Political Economy of Southeast Asia: Politics and Markets Under Hyperglobalisation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) and co-author of Fractured China: How State Transformation is Shaping China’s Rise (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2021).

Hunter Marston

Hunter Marston is a PhD candidate in international relations at the Australian National University’s Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs and a 2021 Nonresident WSD-Handa Fellow at Pacific Forum. In 2012 Marston was a Harold Rosenthal Fellow in International Relations in the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar. He writes regularly on U.S. foreign policy and Southeast Asia.

David Scott Mathieson

David Scott Mathieson is a research analyst, working on conflict, peace and human rights issues in Myanmar for over twenty years. From 2006 to 2016 he was Senior Researcher in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. He has contributed reports to the United States Institute for Peace, International Crisis Group and the Asia Foundation. He is a regular contributor to Asia Times and Mekong Review, and has contributed opinion pieces to the New York Times, The Nation, Foreign Policy, the Wall Street Journal, and The Irrawaddy.

Avinash Paliwal

Avinash Paliwal is a senior lecturer in international relations and deputy director of the South Asia Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is the author of My Enemy’s Enemy: India in Afghanistan from the Soviet Invasion to the US Withdrawal (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

Abhijnan Rej

Abhijnan Rej is director of research at Diplomat Risk Intelligence and security & defense editor at The Diplomat. His areas of focus include Indian and U.S. defense policies, military strategy and emerging technologies. His career has spanned academia, the corporate sector and public policy. He was previously a senior fellow in the Strategic Studies Programme at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Sebastian Strangio

Sebastian Strangio is Southeast Asia editor at The Diplomat. His writings have appeared in leading publications including Foreign Affairs, the Los Angeles Review of Books, New York Times, and Nikkei Asian Review, among many others. He is the author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia (Yale University Press, 2014) and In the Dragon’s Shadow: Southeast Asia in the Chinese Century (Yale University Press, 2020).

Yun Sun

Yun Sun is a senior fellow and co-director of the East Asia Program and director of the China Program at the Stimson Center. Her expertise is in Chinese foreign policy, U.S.-China relations and China’s relations with neighboring countries and authoritarian regimes. From 2011 to early 2014, she was a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, jointly appointed by the Foreign Policy Program and the Global Development Program.