Myanmar military chief has his interests at heart and will deal with whoever holds power in Bangkok
Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief General Min Aung Hlaing told Thailand’s ruling junta during his recent visit that they did the right thing by seizing power because national security was at stake, although the reality is much more complicated than rivalries between the two political movements that brought the nation to a standstill in many ways.
During a meeting in Bangkok with Supreme Commander General Tanasak Patimapragorn, a deputy leader of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), Min Aung Hlaing said the Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s armed forces – had had
a similar experience to Thailand in 1988.
He was referring to the student-led uprising against the military government of Gen Ne Win. The protest had the support of just about everybody in the country - from Buddhist monks to Muslim religious leaders, as well as civil servants and the grassroots community. And while Ne Win did step down, what Gen Min Aung Hlaing didn’t say was that the State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc) was even more repressive and draconian than the previous regime.
Obviously, none of the NCPO members, assuming they are in the right state of mind, would want to be compared to the Burmese regime before or after the August 1988 bloodbath.
Slorc changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), but not its behaviour, and ruled Myanmar, also known as Burma, until 2010 when major reforms were introduced and a huge number of political prisoners were released.
But Min Aung Hlaing was making a point to Thailand and the rest of the world for that matter: The tables have turned and now it’s your turn to take the heat.
Like the Tatmadaw, the Thai military is at a crossroads as it ponders the extent of cementing their place in national politics. In the aftermath of the 2006 coup, the Thai army justified the passing of controversial security laws as a way of preventing arch rival Thaksin Shinwatra and his network of supporters from dominating various agencies and institutions in the country.
They failed, of course, as Thaksin - via his cronies and supporters - made his way back into Government House. And so this time around, it’s do or die for the current Thai junta.
Whatever was said or discussed, let’s hope that the NCPO did not get any bright ideas from General Min Aung Hlaing – from the way the Tatmadaw intimidate its critics and crush public demonstrators to how the Slorc/SPDC deals with ethnic minority groups. The culture of impunity among the Tatmadaw against the Burmese Muslims, especially the Rohingya, can be compared to the treatment of the Malay Muslim suspected separatists in Thailand’s deep South.
Throughout their bilateral history between these two countries, the position taken up by the Myanmar rulers has always centred on their national interest and the survivability and strengthening of the country’s military rulers.
Thai leaders – from Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to Thaksin Shinawatra – tend to be full of themselves and try hard to personalise their relationship with the Burmese military rulers. Along the way, they fooled themselves into thinking that they had the Burmese generals in their pockets.
Let’s hope that the current crop of Thailand’s junta, who would welcome any pat on the back, don’t lose sight of the fact that Gen Min Aung Hlaing was not here to compliment them but to reaffirm Myanmar’s position, which is to say that they will deal with whoever has the power and can deliver on whatever promises and agreements are made.