More tales of intrigue in Myanmar

Even if reports of a coup are false, factionalism within the junta is deepening

Rumours had it that Maung Aye, the second most senior general in Myanmar’s ruling junta was being forced out by supporters of the top man, Senior General Than Shwe. It was also rumoured that Maung Aye had acted pre-emptively by arresting Generals Soe Win and Shwe Mann, who rank immediately below him and are counted as supporters of Than Shwe.

All this before the ruling junta published photographs in the state-controlled newspaper, showing that the junta is, after all, one big happy family.

Regardless of the its attempts to dispel the rumours, there are clear signs of a deepening of the factionalism within the junta. This is not a quarrel over an alternate vision for Myanmar’s future. Rather, it is a struggle for power and influence within the ruling junta. Than Shwe is perceived to ’tilt’ towards India, while Khin Nyunt (formerly), and possibly Maung Aye too, hold up China’s end. The quest for power in Yangon is partially both a cause and an effect of the quest for regional influence on the part of Asia’s two major powers.

Needless to say, in the long term, Burma’s strategic interests lie in counterbalancing China’s influence and power through its ties with India, ASEAN, Japan and the West. However, unless a vertical split emerges within the Burmese military into pro- and anti-democracy factions (along the lines of the Philippines Armed Forces in the mid-1980s) and until Beijing adopts a posture of strict neutrality in Burma’s domestic politics, no popularly elected civilian government is likely to emerge in Rangoon. So, for the foreseeable future, the SPDC seems likely to maintain its iron-grip on power.
With the UN-brokered talks on political reconciliation having reached a dead end, it might be worthwhile to start afresh with a dialogue framework of ASEAN+3 (ASEAN plus China, India and Japan) on Burma. This would also put to test China’s oft-stated commitment to multilateralism and its penchant for “Asian solutions to Asian problems”.[Mohan Malik/Jamestown Foundation]

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