Updated: March 29, 2021 04:10 AM GMT
Protesters make the three-finger salute on March 28 in memory of a comrade who was shot dead during a crackdown by security forces on demonstrations against the military coup in Kawthaung in southern Myanmar. (Photo: AFP/Dawei Watch)
Thanks to its financial and military clout, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long held sway over many of the nations within Southeast Asia, and so it is that the youth-led pro-democratic movements in the neighboring nations of Myanmar and Thailand are facing uphill battles.
Both countries are led by military governments, which are safely ensconced in Beijing’s expanding orbit across the region and are less fettered by considerations of what the United States and other Western nations might think of their overly repressive policies.
Nor is it a coincidence that the generals in charge of Myanmar and Thailand have embraced tactics employed by Beijing in their bid to suppress large-scale dissent against their rule after seizing power by force.
The junta in Myanmar, which staged a coup on Feb. 1, has gone the full Tiananmen Square route by gunning down upwards of 400 unarmed protesters and civilians, including children, in appalling orgies of violence.
Meanwhile, the military-led regime in Thailand, where a group of generals have been in charge ever since they ousted an elected government in May 2014, has opted for Beijing’s Hong Kong model: a slew of illiberal laws are employed to charge numerous protest leaders and pro-democracy protesters with serious crimes such as sedition and royal defamation, which could land them in prison for years if not decades.
In the face of such nefarious tactics of repression by these two governments, international bodies and Western governments have both proved themselves to be impotent. Apart from the obligatory condemnations of the wanton state-orchestrated violence in Myanmar and of the unremitting government-sponsored “lawfare” in Thailand, they have done precious little to come to the aid of beleaguered citizens fighting for their right to elect a government of their choice at free and unfair elections so that they can live in democratic societies with real rule of law at long last.
Beijing has been far less hesitant in its support of both the Burmese and Thai militaries, even as it pays lip service to its alleged doctrine of non-interference in the internal affairs of its allies across the region, which also include Laos and Cambodia, another two countries led by oppressive regimes.
The CCP under the reign of Xi Jinping manifestly favors repressive governments across the region. After all, the people in charge of illiberal regimes like those in Myanmar and Thailand can be far more easily suborned to do China’s bidding for the right price.
That is why the prospects of youth-led democratic movements in Myanmar and Thailand look rather bleak. Naively, young demonstrators in both nations have been appealing to the United Nations for help, but politically the UN has long been a lame duck that does little more than quack in times of trouble.
You cannot help but admire the death-defying courage of Myanmar’s youth who continue manning barricades fearlessly on streets despite facing overwhelming military power by people who have no scruples about massacring scores of people without a second thought. Yet if the direction of Thailand’s youth-led pro-democracy movement is any indication, the odds may be stacked against them.
Over the past few months, youth-led anti-government protests around Bangkok have become less frequent with fewer and fewer participants showing up for street rallies. The reason is hardly a mystery. Several leaders of Thailand’s youth-led movement are in jail awaiting trial on various charges, including numerous counts of royal defamation, each count of which carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Meanwhile, Thai authorities, copying Beijing’s tactics in Hong Kong to the letter, continue throwing the book at more and more young activists on trumped-up charges.
Late last week, for example, two young student activists were indicted for allegedly blocking the way of a limousine carrying Queen Suthida and threatening her safety during a mass rally last year despite video evidence showing that the queen’s motorcade was allowed to pass unobstructed. The minimum sentence for this crime under Thai law is life imprisonment.
“I have come to terms with what will happen,” one of the accused, Bunkueanun Paothong, told a Thai newspaper stoically. “My plan now is to focus on my finals, which will end by next week, as well as getting my academic and personal life in order.”
Young protesters in Myanmar are facing even greater odds. Inspired by the gutsy displays of their counterparts in Thailand over the past year, they have been sticking it to their country’s military, but further bloodshed and mass arrests could soon derail pro-democratic aspirations in Myanmar too.
Taking leaves out of Beijing’s playbook, the generals in Myanmar and Thailand appear dead set on perpetuating their stranglehold on power despite groundswells of popular opposition, and sadly it appears that they are succeeding.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.