Myanmar coup: China blocks UN condemnation as protest grows

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China has blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the military coup in Myanmar.

The military took power in the South East Asian nation on Monday after arresting political leader Aung San Suu Kyi and hundreds of other lawmakers.

The coup leaders have since formed a supreme council which will sit above the cabinet.

In Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon though, signs of resistance and civil disobedience have been growing.

Doctors and medical staff in dozens of hospitals across the country are stopping work in protest against the coup and to push for Ms Suu Kyi’s release.

The United Nations Security Council met on Tuesday but failed to agree on a joint statement after China did not support it. China has the power of veto as one of five permanent members of the council.

Ahead of the talks, the UN’s Special Envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner, strongly condemned the military takeover which came after the army refused to accept the outcome of general elections held in November.

She said it was clear that “the recent outcome of the election was a landslide victory” for Ms Suu Kyi’s party.

In further criticism, the Group of Seven major economic powers said it was “deeply concerned” and called for the return of democracy.

“We call upon the military to immediately end the state of emergency, restore power to the democratically-elected government, to release all those unjustly detained and to respect human rights and the rule of law,” the statement released in London said. The G7 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US.

Why did China block the UN action?
China has been warning since the coup that sanctions or international pressure would only make things worse in Myanmar.

Beijing has long played a role of protecting the country from international scrutiny. It sees the country as economically important and is one of Myanmar’s closest allies.

Alongside Russia, it has repeatedly protected Myanmar from criticism at the UN over the military crackdown on the Muslim minority Rohingya population.

“Beijing’s stance on the situation is consistent with its overall scepticism of international intervention,” Sebastian Strangio, author and South East Asia editor at The Diplomat, told the BBC.

While China does benefit strategically from Myanmar’s alienation from the west, this does not mean that Beijing is happy with the coup, he cautions.

“They had a pretty good arrangement with the NLD and invested a lot to build a relationship with Aung San Suu Kyi. The return of the military actually means that China now has to deal with the institution in Myanmar that historically is the most suspicious of China’s intentions.”

“Through this foreign policy equivalent of gaslighting, China seems to be signalling its tacit support, if not emphatic endorsement, for the generals’ actions,” Myanmar expert Elliott Prasse-Freeman, of the National University of Singapore, told the BBC.

“China seems to be proceeding as if this is Myanmar’s ‘internal issue’ in which what we are observing is a ‘cabinet reshuffle,’ as China’s state media put it.”

While he thinks a UN statement would not have made an immediate difference, it would still serve as “a first step for cohering an international response. That appears to not be forthcoming”.

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