U.S.-China Tug of War in Myanmar and Thailand

From a Solari Report Subscriber

Southeast Asia has been quietly trying to rebuild its economies after the damage caused by the Covid crisis last year. But now it has reluctantly become a stage for color revolutions with the focal point – Thailand and Myanmar. A student-led anti-government protest has been simmering on and off in Thailand since last year although it tapered off when there was a wave of virus infections in December. But now, with the virus seemingly under control the Thailand protests have re-emerged. Moreover, the Thai protests have gained fresh energy from the military overthrow of the Myanmar government – there is a similarity of cause and many of the Myanmar protests are happening in Thailand where there is a large population of Burmese people. In style and character these two protest movements are barely distinguishable from one another. They are mainly led by students, young people and NGOs, they are calling for more democracy, wave similar mass-produced banners in the English language and they are being cheered by on the Western media. They even share the same defiant symbol the three-finger salute borrowed from the Hunger Games movie.

In terms of the opposing forces – there are also similarities. In both countries the army plays a political role which is enshrined in the constitution, military men lead both governments, and both Thailand and Myanmar are conservative Buddhist societies. Geopolitically, they occupy strategic positions at the crossroads of Southeast Asia which are along the path of the Belt and Road and they are both economically and politically close to China. As international pressure mounts against Myanmar the Thai government is being criticized for failing to condemn the coup. The rising civil disobedience in Myanmar is also creating economic fallout in Thailand as it is disrupting transport and exports. Whereas Myanmar just a few short months ago was a rising star in the region, now it is being shunned by investors who are alarmed by the growing violence and the threat of international sanctions. Meanwhile Thailand is also concerned about a potential humanitarian crisis and preparing for a flood of refugees across the border. Although the protests in Thailand seem to be losing steam for now, there is great concern about the threats to the region’s stability.

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