Myanmar coup: China blocks UN condemnation as protest grows

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image copyrightReuters
image captionAung San Suu Kyi remains detained by the military

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.

image copyrightReuters
image captionYangon General Hospital - medics wear red ribbons in protest

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."

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe ousted political leaders remain in detention, guarded by soldiers

"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".

Where is Aung San Suu Kyi?

Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the now-ousted elected government, has not been seen since she was detained by the military on Monday morning.

Dozens of others also remain detained, including President Win Myint, members of her party's central committee and her personal attorney. They are reportedly being held under house arrest.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) demanded her immediate release on Tuesday. It has also called upon the military to accept the results of the November election, which saw the NLD win more than 80% of the votes.

Meanwhile, the United States said it had been unsuccessful in contacting the Myanmar military and has formally declared the takeover to be a coup d'etat. This means the US cannot directly assist the government, though most of its assistance goes to non-governmental entities.

The EU, UK, Australia and others have also condemned the takeover.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by the armed forces until 2011, when a nominally civilian government was sworn in.

What is the situation in Myanmar?

Power has been handed over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing. Eleven ministers and deputies, including those in finance, health, the interior and foreign affairs, were replaced.

In the first meeting of his cabinet on Tuesday, Min Aung Hlaing repeated that the takeover had been "inevitable".

The country was calm in the aftermath of the coup, with troops patrolling all major cities and a night-time curfew in force.

Myanmar has a long history of military rule and many people can still remember the terror of previous coups.

But on Tuesday evening, car horns and the banging of cooking pots could be heard in the streets of Yangon in a sign of protest.

Activist groups have called for civil disobedience campaigns, setting up a Facebook group to organise their efforts.

media captionPeople in Yangon banged pots and pans to protest against the military coup

Staff at 70 hospitals and medical departments across the country have reportedly stepped away from all non-emergency work.

Hundreds of healthcare workers, including senior doctors, have participated in the "Red Ribbon movement", with many donning a red ribbon on their clothes to show they were against the coup. Online, many changed their social media profile pictures to one of just the colour red.

Myanmar at a glance

Myanmar is a country of 54 million people in South East Asia which shares borders with Bangladesh, India, China, Thailand and Laos.

It was ruled by an oppressive military government from 1962 to 2011, leading to international condemnation and sanctions.

Aung San Suu Kyi spent years campaigning for democratic reforms. A gradual liberalisation began in 2010, though the military still retained considerable influence.

A government led by Ms Suu Kyi came to power after free elections in 2015. But a deadly military crackdown two years later on Rohingya Muslims sent hundreds of thousands fleeing to Bangladesh and triggered a rift between Ms Suu Kyi and the international community.

She has remained popular at home and her party won again by a landslide in the November 2020 election. But the military have now stepped in to take control once more.

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