Coup in Myanmar: how should Europe respond?

The military took power on Monday in Myanmar - on the same day the parliament elected in November was due to convene for its first session. The head of government and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and the president were arrested. The military justified the coup citing electoral fraud. Europe must not react unwisely, observers warn.

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Der Standard (AT) /

China standing at the ready

Philipp Annawitt worked for the United Nations Development Programme in Myanmar until 2020. In an opinion piece in the Standard, he warns:

“The EU should not yet start questioning the 'Everything but Arms' trade status that is so important for Myanmar's economy. If a few days pass without any reaction, the military emergency will consolidate. The US will then freeze monetary transactions with broad economic sanctions. The first bank runs will follow. The economy, already battered by Covid, could collapse. Then China will step in to help quickly and decisively. And this help will have a tragic price: the end of the democratic opening and the de facto end of Myanmar's sovereignty.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Promote a broad coalition of young democrats

NRC Handelsblad also warns of the negative consequences of economic sanctions against the already impoverished country, but admits:

“In any event, the possibilities for targeted sanctions against the military leadership are rather limited. The US and EU have already put some members of the military on a sanctions list. It goes without saying that Suu Kyi must be released and returned to her rightful position. But the West must not focus exclusively on her, as in past decades. Democracy in Myanmar still has a long way to go - and it requires a broad coalition of young democrats.”

Ria Nowosti (RU) /

Generals pulled the emergency brake

The Russian state news agency Ria Novosti defends the military coup as a necessary evil:

“The military used the same mechanisms (albeit to an excessive degree) that they themselves enshrined in the 2008 constitution. To what end? Simply to seize power? They already had plenty of power before the coup. No, they were driven by the need to avoid turmoil and chaos. After its election victory Suu Kyi's party wanted to appoint regional chiefs from its ranks. This caused unrest in the various states [areas mainly inhabited by minorities] - where support for Suu Kyi is lower and the risk of unrest is higher. This is because partisans and semi-legal national militias are still present in Myanmar. The military did not want existing ethnic and regional conflicts to be exacerbated by new ones.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

A self-destructive compromise

Aung San Suu Kyi should never have struck a deal with the country's generals, The Irish Times comments:

“Aung San Suu Kyi had reached a modus vivendi with the military under the 'agreed' constitution. It maintained a check on civilian power by reserving three ministries and a quarter of parliamentary seats for the generals. It was a compromise which saw her refraining from criticising the army's excesses, notably the genocidal crackdown on and forced expulsions of the minority Rohingya. But riding the tiger was a dangerous and ultimately self-defeating strategy which has also all but destroyed her international reputation, although she remains popular at home.”

Postimees (EE) /

A superfluous coup

Postimees believes the military would have had enough power even without the coup:

“The country's constitution grants the military a quarter of the seats in parliament and control over important ministries. The facade of democratisation made it possible to restore relations with the West. ... Tatmadaw [the armed forces] wants to show that democracy doesn't work and that the democratic forces are more corrupt than the military. In general, however, the prevailing attitude is that Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy are the only legitimate representatives of the people. Even if they don't do everything perfectly. ... Since Tatmadaw hadn't actually lost its position in the country, the takeover came as a surprise. ... According to one theory internal tensions and power struggles were the trigger.” (DE) /

Aung San Suu Kyi ruined her own image

The coup marks a tragic low point in the life of the erstwhile freedom fighter, comments Holger Wenzel, Southeast Asia correspondent for German broadcaster ARD, on

“She had joined forces with those who violate human rights and despise democracy. A freedom fighter once celebrated in the West, she had gambled away her international reputation. ... It's pointless to speculate about her motives - whether she allowed herself to be corrupted by office and power or believed she had no choice. ... By acting as a democratic fig leaf for the army she has also betrayed her own people. This brought her a landslide victory in the last elections - but in the end it did her no good: the army decided to get rid of its compliant stooge.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Favourable conditions for the generals

The military is taking advantage of the geopolitical situation, Corriere della Sera comments:

“The hypocritical balancing act of 'imperfect democracy' has isolated the country. But the military knows how to play with geopolitics. It believes it can find a place for itself in the differences between Washington and Beijing. General Min Aung Hlaing, the front man of the coup, has already faced personal sanctions by the US over the Rohingya dossier and has nothing to lose. His cohorts are hoping the White House will have difficulties finding an ethical way to increase the pressure without making the population suffer even more. The generals also know their country is strategically important for China's Silk Road. Yesterday, China confined itself to saying that it had 'noticed' the change in the situation and wanted 'political and social stability'.”

Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

Too many humiliations

The old guard simply wasn't prepared to accept the election victory, Corriere del Ticino explains:

“Parliament would have met for the first time yesterday after the election that brought a landslide victory for the NLD and humiliation for the military party. This humiliation likely sparked a thirst for authoritarianism in the military junta. ... One must not forget that all the strong men in the regime come from the old Socialist Programme Party. ... Many ambiguous terms have been coined over the years for the purely theoretical desire to change the political spirit of the country: from the 'Burmese road to socialism' to 'people's democracy based on the Soviet model' to the current 'democracy flourishing in discipline'. All terms that must seem less than appropriate, especially to China, Myanmar's most important trading partner and patron.”