Pumping Up Myanmar’s Junta With Guns, Trade, and Tourism

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ASEAN Beat | Politics | Southeast Asia

Pumping Up Myanmar’s Junta With Guns, Trade, and Tourism

Fresh reports further undermine ASEAN’s credibility in Myanmar.

Pumping Up Myanmar’s Junta With Guns, Trade, and Tourism
Credit: Depositphotos

Who is funding and delivering arms to the military junta in Myanmar is emerging as a hot-button issue within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Tom Andrews, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, prised-open the lingering questions with his recent report, which identified “254 unique suppliers.”

It found Myanmar’s military, also known as the Tatmadaw, has imported at least $1 billion worth of arms and dual use goods to support the military’s domestic arms manufacturing since its coup ousted an elected government more than two years ago.

Russia and China were the main suppliers – no surprises there. Much the same could be said for India and Thailand. But the supply of $254 million worth of imports originating from Singapore has raised more than a few eyebrows.

Then, on Friday, another report by the advocacy group Justice for Myanmar published leaked documents detailing plans by the ASEAN-Japan Center to back the junta on trade and tourism, while marking a half-century of “friendship and cooperation” between Japan and the Southeast Asian bloc.

The center is governed by a council consisting of 11 representatives appointed by Japan and each member country of ASEAN.

Justice For Myanmar said the ASEAN-Japan Center had refused to disclose the amount of funds provided to the junta, stating that the information is only available to council members, noting that Myanmar is wrongly represented by Soe Han, the junta’s ambassador to Japan.

Protests regarding his position have previously been lodged, including his attendance at the funeral of slain former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, last September, alongside U.S. President Joe Biden and the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Justice for Myanmar said Soe Han’s position legitimizes the junta and facilitates continued support, emboldening the junta’s terror campaign. It added that Japan is represented on the board by Yutaka Arima, an assistant minister of foreign affairs.

“This anniversary has so far shown that ASEAN and Japan’s friendship in Myanmar is with the illegitimate military junta, not the people who are being slaughtered,” said Justice For Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung.

“Without an immediate end to ASEAN and Japan’s support for the junta, the fiftieth anniversary of ASEAN-Japan relations will be forever tarnished with the blood of Myanmar people,” he said. “It’s time ASEAN and Japan end its complicity in the junta’s international crimes.”

Combined, the two reports add considerably to an already heated argument that ASEAN is incapable of meeting international expectations on Myanmar, particularly in light of the dilly-dallying by ASEAN chairs in 2021 and 2022.

Instead, the private sector, bureaucracies, and inter-government agencies have greased the wheels and kept them turning for a junta that deserves to be before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for atrocities committed against its own people.

This was highlighted by the Andrews report which detailed $406 million worth of sales from Russian entities and $267 million from China, adding that this included some sales from state-owned companies.

The response from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was as predictable as it was heartless, accusing Andrews of acting beyond his authority and attempting to smear what it described as normal military trade between sovereign countries by distorting the facts.

Russia and India’s dominance in arms dealing, while morally reprehensible, is no surprise given their long-standing military contracts with Tatmadaw.

Nor was Thailand’s appearance, given its long, porous and shared border with Myanmar and decade-long military rule, which might change given the success of the Move Forward Party in recent elections.

The Andrews report found no evidence to suggest the Singapore government was involved with arms trading into Myanmar, but it did find that Singaporean banks were being used extensively by arms dealers and that they were suspected of holding substantial reserves from Myanmar.

Among those mentioned were DBS Bank, UOB, and OCBC Bank.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore has said it has taken its banks to task and says several of the entities mentioned in the 50-page U.N. report no longer held business relationships with the banks.

Okay, but confirmation that Singapore banks were facilitating arms deals and that all ASEAN members were aware of attempts to legitimize the junta through investment and tourism at the behest of the ASEAN-Japan Centre remains a grave concern.

One would hope the ICC is also taking note.