by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Screenshot
TAIWANESE CIVIL SOCIETY groups held a press conference in the legislature on February 2nd to call attention to the third anniversary of the coup in Myanmar, which overturned the democratically elected government and instituted a military regime.
The coup is frequently referred to by Burmese themselves as having been a failed military coup, however, in that the government was not successful in crushing resistance to its authoritarian rule. But while Myanmar has seen many coups in past decades, the most recent one has since become a full-scale civil war.
Three years on from the coup, the days of the military junta that currently rules Myanmar are likely numbered, given numerous cases of defections, losses, and captures by resistance forces. This has particularly been the case after the successes of Operation 1027, which started last year in October, as pushed by the coalition of ethnic revolutionary organizations known as the Three Brotherhood Alliance. In the meantime, the ousted democratic government has come to constitute the National Unity Government, which serves as a government-in-exile.
That being said, the conflict could still rage on for many years, particularly in the absence of international attention. The military junta no longer controls the majority of territory in Myanmar, which has pushed it to the use of air strikes, relying on its advantage in military technology as it loses ground. Yet this is only able to take place because other countries continue to sell jet fuel to the military government, or act as waystations for the repair of military equipment in evasion of international sanctions. The amount of air strikes in Myanmar is comparable to the number that has taken place in Ukraine, following Russia’s military invasion, to date.
Taiwanese civil society groups that participated in the press conference as attendees or signatories included the Taiwan Alliance for Myanmar, Taiwan Association for Human Rights, Global Action for Taiwan, Asia Citizen Future Association, Youth Labor Union 95, Covenants Watch, Taiwan Stands With Ukraine, Serve the People Association, Students for a Free Tibet — Taiwan, and Amnesty International Taiwan. Legislator Hung Sun-han was present, along with Taiwanese human rights NGO worker, Lee Ming-che, who was jailed by the Chinese government for five years, while Burmese activists, such as Taiwan-based Koko Thu and Thinzar Shunlei Yi, who joined online, also participated.
Livestream of the press conference
In comments, speakers highlighted the potential role that Taiwan could potentially play for the development of democracy in Myanmar, particularly at a time when China is seeking to expand its influence globally including exporting its model of governance to Southeast Asia. To this end, the Taiwanese government was called on to pass legislation to prevent the sale of jet fuel to the military government, in line with international campaigning around the issue.
Koko Thu highlighted how the overseas Burmese community has become organized in response to the military coup in 2021. Namely, around the time of the military coup, large-scale solidarity rallies were held in Taiwan for the resistance against the coup. Many of the participants were residents of “Little Burma” in Zhonghe, Taipei, where there are a number of Chinese Burmese residents. The political leanings of the Chinese Burmese diaspora in Zhonghe are often in support of Aung San Suu Kyi’s now-ousted National League of Democracy government.
Likewise, speakers called on the Taiwanese government to take more action to defend asylum seekers from Myanmar. While there have been cases of Burmese seeking asylum in Taiwan and some Taiwanese NGOs are involved in work to assist Burmese refugees on the border between Thailand and Myanmar, there have been challenges. For one, the Taiwanese government lacks interviewers with the language skills needed to interview and process documents from asylum seekers.
But to this extent, there are no laws providing for refugees or asylum seekers in Taiwan, leading such individuals to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This has contributed to the issue of asylum seekers only having temporary residency status in Taiwan, raising concerns for them about whether they could still be deported. A number of cases become caught in the bureaucracy between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Immigration Agency, and other government ministries, in which each ministry seeks to pass on responsibility to other ministries.
Three years since the military coup in Myanmar, resistance continues. However, compared to then, there is relatively less discussion in Taiwan of links between Taiwan and Myanmar, as well as consideration of ways that Taiwan can assist in ongoing struggles there.