Edits: I added some perspective on China after posting this. And had forgotten to include this head scratcher of a story - Indian utility co deciding to set up shop in the disputed zone of ultra regime resistant Sagaing Division.
First the “good news.” Ever superstitious, the junta last week released 2,153 prisoners sentenced under their revised 505(a) code (“badmouthing the coup”) to mark Kasone Full Moon Day, marking the Buddha’s moment of enlightenment. It is a time of reflection and prayer. Similar to what they said in releasing the foreigners in November, the regime said this was “for the peaceful mind of the people and on humanitarian grounds." The junta also directed those serving in the regime-run agencies to pray for the regime’s stability. This is a pretty broad release of actual political prisoners where many previous ones were of violent criminals either uninvolved in politics or actually released on condition that they then attack the demonstrators. Likely the pressure came from China, but may also have been something recommended by astrologers.
Lots of Rohingya stuff to discuss (plus more on China further down)
The regime with help from India and China has built some shacks in Rakhine and is attempting to lure refugees back. The regime persuaded a Rohingya “go and see” group to see what was waiting for them in Rakhine but couldn’t give any lucid answer Rohingya path to citizenship. The junta propaganda, as is typical for everything else they churn out, is just plain creepy:
IOW, “here’s a new card that we’ll use to track you everywhere so we know where to find you on our next campaign of terror, we promise you the same kind of freedom we’ve promised everyone else who won’t speak a single word against the coup (which, in and of itself in reality is ‘not much’), and we’ll try to stop calling you Bengali. Forget the old citizenship, family, marital, death record and property title documents we stole from you. You are ‘entitled to apply’ for all new paperwork!”
As described in great detail in the USHMM’s “Burma’s Path to Genocide” exhibit, the Rohingya had their citizenship papers taken and never returned in a form of ethnic cleansing carried out by the regime over decades.
And no, says Aung Kyaw Moe, ASEAN, UNDP and UNHCR are not in any such discussions with the regime over facilitating Rohingya repatriation in partnership with the coup regime. Ironic timing on that claim about these three entities’ involvement, since the regime has now attacked an ASEAN aid convoy.
This could be some tit for tat with the regime not invited to sit at the 43rd ASEAN gathering. Indonesia has engaged in a flurry of activity - I think I read 40 contacts with multiple stakeholders in Myanmar - and acknowledged that “the divisions run deep.” They were trying to show progress before handing the reins of ASEAN to the next unlucky leader.
Lots of China stuff to discuss
But, stepping into the vacuum, China is claiming to be the only ones trying to help re Rohingya. By building shacks on the Myanmar side and trying to push the Rohingya to go over there. It that the ‘Go and See’ group has now inspected and rejected the whole deal. Rohingya Refugees Reject Rakhine Villages Built by Myanmar Junta
In a guest column in the Irrawaddy, long time academic Burma watcher/historian David Steinberg offers some perspective on China and the Rohingya citizenship issue.
At any rate, China is clearly seizing ASEAN’s slap-in-the-face moment with the Junta to cozy up. The highest level Chinese diplo meeting since the coup just happened as Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with both Min Aung Hlaing and the former dictator Than Shwe (without whose approval MAH cannot rule). Qin Gang publicly promised to stand by the junta in the global arena. Predictably, the NUG has issued a warning to China that this is not the way to achieve China’s goal of neighborhood stability.
Some personal perspective incorporating a brain dump I just got from Kyaw Htay Oo, who has spent significant hours in the company of DASSK and separately with economist Sean Turnell. Much of his current take, thought, he says comes from a report he heard on Chinese television.
China wants stability - or at least a stable business climate/partner. Publicly they’re saying, they want a return to how things were in the days before the 2020 election. Maybe not exactly. They also met with the other former president/dictator Thein Sein. Much of this goes back to a massive MOU inked in 2015 covering 93 contracts. Likely in close consult with Turnell and then closely pressing the military leadership, DASSK did away with about sixty of them. Each one had been done with corruption level signature bonuses (the civilized world’s way of laundering bribes) equaling 10%-15% of the total project, and probably going straight into the respective controlling ministry who then sends a portion of that up to the military top brass. These were non refundable to the business entity.
Two of the most audacious projects to be cancelled (which also suggests the greatest losses of deposits by the Chinese crony companies), were for a massive port project I’ve mentioned previously, and a multi city / port bullet railway system, each of which was extremely beyond Myanmar’s current need or capacity to use the service profitably, which would have put Myanmar into a debt cycle. It is widely believed that there were also undocumented payoffs and kickbacks directly to ministers who would sign these deals.
Likely China has been courting/talking to both the current and former leadership to ensure everyone is on the same page with some kind of promise to refresh the entire MOU. The elders would no doubt be pressuring MAH not to pull the same BS with China that he’s been pulling with ASEAN and other foreign delegations.
However. Absent DASSK, my take is that China would have to bet militarily on the coup, even as they seek this return to the olden times. Prior to the visit to Myanmar, Qin Gang also just met with the UN envoy Noeleen Heyzer. I could see them (china or bothHeyzer and China) trying to get in front of DASSK to ask, would you agree to allowing these two deals to go through if we could persuade MAH to release you? An actual return to 2020 pre-election would not accomplish that for China. But even being asked under duress, DASSK, educated abroad but also educated now by Sean Turnell, I think would say no to a return to 2015 (also the year that the Bamar Buddhist Nationalism began infecting the NLD in parliament, before much of it/the perpetrators were exorcised).
Sheesh this has my wheels spinning. Because if China persuades MAH to let Heyzer put this plan in front of DASSK, being shut away from her advisors for so long, with it coming from this envoy who can put on an appearance of speaking for the West, maybe DASSK would go for it.
I think she was pressured greatly to accept the garbage 2008 constitution by Western leaders who were eager to lift sanctions, get to Burma’s resources and low cost, educated labor force, and to gain some kind of democratic looking toehold, to just make the deal and have faith that democracy would follow. Possibly she is feeling many times bitten, now shy.
Okay, enough. As to the United Nations? The World Food Programme, citing severe funding shortfalls, has notified Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh of a new reduction in their monthly allotments which for years stood at $12/month. It now stands at about $8US/month beginning in June with which WFP tells the Rohingya they can buy 13kg of rice and “use the remainder on fresh food items…”
Meanwhile in Washington DC, NUG had a bigger than usual gathering of its team - when we hoped to be there - with at least the Rohingya advisor also partaking in an Eid celebration with Secretary Blinken and Ambassador Beth Van Schaack, who has a fascinating gig heading up the Office of Global Criminal Justice.
And, of course the regime is doubling down on their instruments of terror.
11 May 2023
Well, yikes. Severe cyclonic storm “Mokha” is now a category 5 aimed at the capital of Rakhine State. It is already severe at sea with winds in the 100mph range and gusts around 110, but as you know it may continue to gain fuel while at sea. A 2.1 meter surge is no joke.
Rohingya meanwhile are extremely irked at a statement by the Bangladeshi who is tasked with repatriation. He sounds delusional to me but here’s a link to the story. It’s helpful to know what’s being said. This rhetoric is likely to reappear in other places from other speakers.
He’s under a lot of pressure, especially with the recent news from the UN Food Programme as what this really means is that Bangladesh will have significantly less resource to feed a million refugees. So of course he’s looking for a fast solution. He’s quoted in a different take that is worth a read.
In 36 hours, prior to landfall just south of the Bangladesh and Myanmar border, Mocha will decrease in intensity to 185 km/h (100 knots) as the environment will become less favorable. These less favorable conditions are defined by an increase in wind shear, dry air entrainment wrapping into the LLCC from the southern edge, the onset of land interaction, and cooler (28-29°C) sea surface temperatures.
In 42 hours, Mocha will make landfall and begin its dissipation phase. In 2 to 3 days, Mocha will dissipate due to land interaction over northwest Myanmar.
The deterministic and ensemble models all agree that Mocha will continue to intensify as it transits northeastward over the next 24 hours, then weaken on or before 36 hours as it continues the same trajectory.
…Maximum significant wave height is 14.6 meters (48 feet).
Can that report be run through an AI to fix the font spacing? I’m crosseyed at the first paragraph.
Edit: it’s still a headache and I will take a crack at doing it in Word then back to PDF when I’m feeling a little more motivated. But even better, the summary indicates the findings are summarized on this much easier to read infographic also in PDF.
Campaigners in the US are wanting to hone in on China.
Lots of visits by NUG to the west coast. Today in LA Htin Lin Aung and U Kyaw Moe Tun. They will be in SF tomorrow. UKMT is receiving the “Citizen of Burma Award” this evening from a group that operates by that name in Southern California. I have ChatGPT helping fix that report layout. It flagged for potential content policy and this was just wonderful:
1 June 23
Dealing at long last with a primary medical issue for the prisoner. At the same time, dealing with the local scene here (esp. surrounding NUG visits) has been both eye opening and disappointing. In short, I realized yet again that there are deliberate moves to keep both me and KHO out of anything interfacing with NUG (this has happened any time high profile folks show up in LA, going back 20 years). I’m putting my rant in the parking lot for now… gotta deal with a three page medication list.
During a visit with a NUG minister in Sacramento, a California state Senator posted a picture with a minister. The minister was pointing to a map and a list showing the population breakdown of ethnic groups and religions, but the word “Rohingya” was notably absent. This sparked backlash from the Rohingya community.
The image pointed to was reportedly sourced from Wikipedia by a senate staffer. Due to personal doubts that such a list would have survived on Wikipedia, and not having heard from anyone who was in the room, I am not confident about these details.
The senator should clarify the incident and meet with Rohingya leadership directly. Criticisms emerged when the senator briefly removed and possibly reposted the image. Images were sent to me by two people (likely one got it from the other) claiming to show before/after posts, but I couldn’t discern any differences.
6 June - oops, this has been sitting in edit
I have been avoiding FB and this means missing a lot of the stories that bubble up from the community. There was another political faux pas, this time in (checks notes) also Sacramento.
Immediately after the coup, then Los Angeles Deputy Mayor for International Affairs Nina Hachigian happened to have already had a meeting scheduled with the Myanmar consul in Los Angeles. A former US Ambassador to Indonesia and an expert on ASEAN and deeply aware of the Rohingya as well as US Myanmar policy, she was extremely well qualified for this encounter. She let them have it and insisted that the consul relay what she had to say directly back to MAH.
Meeting with consul in a public, business-friendly photo op, however, is seen as legitimizing the regime. It has probably already been channeled through the Big Brother media there.
12 June 2023
Caught this linked in the Jewish World Watch newsletter:
Nuance needed and is there in spades. The group protested for a true, meaningful UN protected return. They want their identities as Rohingya cemented using the UNHCR data card. Some well placed Rohingya expats have been working on digital ID’s through educational initiatives in the camps, to help track students and give them a resume through the training received, certs etc. so they may have opportunities for income through remote work. These are also being geared to track courses being taught by camp residents many of whom are experienced in crafts and trades.
This is NOT a bogus protest from paid off people purporting to support the Potemkin village. They were interviewed and still don’t like it. That pilot project would only accommodate 1,100 people. Not exactly a return to community. As mentioned, there are very skilled, educated people stuck in the camps. They don’t need China or India to build homes for them. They are not homeless because they built shitty houses, had a natural disaster or “fell on hard times.” So this group is saying “send us back, give us a stamp that protects us from getting kicked out again, and we’ll deal with everything from there.”
I haven’t discussed this in detail here but the article got a quick thumbs up from a Rohingya leader. If this is a prevailing Rohingya sentiment now, NUG would be wise to put its ear to the rail and help amplify it.
22 June 2023
Burned out on posturing and infighting, which I must remind myself are among a small group of self appointed “leaders” and “advisors” who most of the community may strive to avoid, I have been less involved of late and needing to return to some stability, not to say “get my old life back.” There have been several specific incidents leading up to this state of burnout, including some loyal friends essentially live texting me the attempts to smear me. It is not that I’m at all important in the scheme of things, but people who perceive that I am, or who want to leverage me to get close to others, or don’t want to hear what I have to say, are doing this. In particular, I am blunt and explicit about the cost to their entire movement of the brazen attempts to shelve the Rohingya issue, and instead of understanding that I’m talking about a political cost, they take it to be me conspiring with Rohingya to undermine everything. Similar infighting among Rohingya makes it an extraordinary challenge for them to speak with a unified voice.
I had long thought that all of this grew out of the big brother paranoia under military rule, but I am just starting to see that it goes back to the precolonial ages of Burmese kingdoms. There is a sense I get among these careful maneuverers that if you’re seen as close to someone who is regarded as “great,” that you are somehow great as well. My helping this cause and not asking anything in return has made me a strange bird in these circles, and conspiracy theories about me abound.
More sanctions, this time on the state owned banks. Each time these are announced, it prompts many of us to wonder as Phil Robertson of HRW asks:
Historian Bertil Lindner offers a counter to the glossy assertions that the push against the regime is perfectly unified. I have been feeling uneasy about an op ed co authored by a trio of NUG, ethnic and Gen 88 leaders and published by the United States Institute of Peace a couple of weeks ago. Let’s start with that:
Today, the country has embraced an historic unity that brings together virtually every ethnic and political strand to oppose the ruling junta.
I don’t want to downplay the precedence or the importance of what has occurred to date, but beliefs and assumptions especially among the older generations of Bamar are still mired and problematic. This is painful for Bamar to read, but that doesn’t make it untrue. It is a glossy line that runs through the entire piece.
…the bitter truth is that Myanmar has a long and troubled history of failed attempts to forge pan-ethnic resistance fronts—and the main, divisive issue has always been Burman-ethnic minority relations. And…there are also conflicts between the various ethnic minorities. There is long-standing animosity between the Kachin and the Shan in Kachin State, and Shan, Kachin and Palaung have overlapping claims to territory in northern Shan State. The Wa, now in eastern Shan State, want their own state, which the Shan may not agree to. Rakhine State is torn apart by conflicts between Buddhists and Muslims, and Karen and Mon rebels have been fighting over territory adjacent to the Thai border… Successive post-independence governments—as well as forces that for decades have resisted central authority—have all failed to create the shared sense of nationhood and belonging…
Under a post connecting to this on LinkedIn, (Jane’s Intelligence contributor & security analyst) Anthony Davis crystallizes my perspective:
The conclusion of this article is that “this is a war that neither side can win”. That may well be correct; but it is absolutely a war that one side must lose. If Myanmar and the world can draw one indisputable truth from the past seven decades it is that the Myanmar military is incapable of solving the ethnic issue that Lintner correctly identifies as at “the heart of the problem”. Indeed, the military’s ingrained Bamar chauvinism, proclivity for extreme violence, and constant divide-and-rule strategies only exacerbate the problem. It is imperative that Myanmar’s own peoples (pl.) defeat this cancer one way or another. This is a war the military can and must lose.
Those who have had the patience to read this far must find the clutter of acronyms of major, middle-sized and small and insignificant groups, shifting alliances, splits and surrenders truly bewildering, and it all seems like an absolute mess only very few outsiders would even want to try to make sense of.