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Myanmar’s Conflict: America’s Proxy War with China


Brian Berletic
21st Century Wire
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Introduction

Just this week reports out of the Western media indicate armed combat between Myanmar’s military and the opposition – who, until just recently, we were told by Western governments were “peaceful” and “unarmed.” 

Serious fighting has erupted in Myanmar’s northern city of Mandalay, the Southeast Asian state’s second largest city.

The uptick in violence was entirely predictable.

Myanmar’s opposition, the product of decades of US and British government backing and part of a much wider bid by the West to reassert primacy over the Indo-Pacific region, seeks to retake power and continue cutting ties with neighboring China including blocking Beijing’s One Belt, One Road initiative of which Myanmar is a significant part.

CNN in its article, “Army clashes with anti-junta militia in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-biggest city,” would claim:

Myanmar security forces backed by armored vehicles on Tuesday clashed with a newly formed militia group in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, according to social media posts from the group and media reports.

Since the army seized power on February 1 and removed the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, the security forces have quashed protests opposing military rule. In response, groups of opponents of the coup known as people’s defense forces have sprung up across Myanmar.

The so-called “people’s defense forces” have been carrying out armed terrorist attacks across the country and in populated areas for months, including in Mandalay. This includes not only attacks on police and military targets, but also admittedly on civilian targets including public offices and even schools.

Opposition media such as US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funded “Myanmar Now” admits to daily terrorism being carried out by these opposition groups, though it is careful never to characterize the attacks as such.

Headlines from the US government-funded media platform include, “As spate of killings continues, anti-junta forces warn of more to come.”

The article attempts to justify the violence as a means to “resist the junta’s repression.” The article claims:

While peaceful protests continue—albeit on a far smaller scale than in the early days of the movement—they have been increasingly overshadowed in recent weeks by almost daily reports of shootings and bombings.

One of the most recent came on Tuesday afternoon, when a lone gunman shot at two soldiers stationed outside the No. 32 Basic Education High School in Mandalay’s Pyigyidagun Township, killing one and injuring the other.

The article then admits that the so-called “people’s defense force” mentioned by CNN took responsibility for the school attack, claiming:

Unlike many such incidents, this one could be attributed to a particular group—the Mandalay People’s Defence Force (PDF), part of a nationwide network of local civilian resistance forces that aims to coalesce into a federal army.

“Our PDF team has started carrying out guerrilla activities in Mandalay,” said Bo Nat Khat, one of the group’s leaders. He also claimed responsibility for a recent series of small explosions in five townships.

The group’s leader admitted that his militants would be targeting “crowded places” like “electricity offices” and “courts,” urging the public to avoid these locations.

Hundreds of bombings and armed attacks on schools have been carried out since the military ousted the US-backed client regime of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) political party in February this year.

Reuters in its article, “Boycott and bombings mar Myanmar’s new school year,” would report that between May 1 and May 26 alone 115 bombings or bombing attempts and 18 arson attacks have targeted schools in the country.

The article also admitted that:

Security forces stood guard at some schools and brought pupils under armed escort from their homes.

The US-backed opposition has touted its “civil disobedience movement” (CDM) but only a minority have joined it – including across the nation’s many educational institutes. The Reuters article itself admits that little more than a quarter of the nation’s teachers joined the CDM, with coordinated terrorist attacks on teachers, students, and schools – as well as all other public facilities that attempt to continue as normal – designed to grind the rest of the government to a halt.

Both Reuters and CNN cite the so-called Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) for updated death and detention tallies. Not mentioned by either Reuters or CNN is that AAPP is funded by the US government through the same NED funding opposition groups across Myanmar. AAPP’s founder and joint secretary – Ko Bo Kyi – even has his own webpage on the NED’s official website as part of an NED fellowship. It also isn’t mentioned that AAPP is based in neighboring Thailand, not Myanmar.

Libya-Syria Redux

CNN’s article also features a video of supposed members of “people’s defense forces” receiving military training in camps located in rural Myanmar and operated by armed ethnic groups backed for decades by the US and British governments. This support includes material support and military training provided by supposed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the “Free Burma Rangers,” led by ex-US military personnel who work with separatist groups while maintaining contact with US embassies in both Myanmar and neighbouring Thailand, leaked diplomatic cables reveal.

The trainees can be seen operating variants of the M-16 service rifle – an American made war weapon found in abundance among separatist groups who have been fighting Myanmar’s central government for decades.

These trained militants then filter back into urban centers where they have been carrying out a campaign of armed terrorism even the Western media has admitted to – albeit as obliquely as possible.

Despite the obvious foreign-backed nature of the armed violence aimed at Myanmar’s central government, the UN General Assembly, according to CNN, has attempted to hinder the nation’s military in restoring order.

CNN would claim:

The United Nations General Assembly on Friday called for a stop to the flow of arms to Myanmar and urged the military to respect the results of a November election and release political detainees, including Suu Kyi.

The November election, however, was not the product of a democratic process, but wholly the product of foreign interference.

The US government through the National Endowment for Democracy has build-up Myanmar’s so-called “pro-democracy” opposition over decades. The NED’s official website lists over 80 programs alone involved in everything from political processes, media, legal affairs, resource management, youth leadership, labor, and the direct support of ethnic groups at the heart of various, violent separatist movements along the nation’s borders.

The NED has even received opposition and NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi herself in Washington DC on multiple occasions including for the 2012 “Democracy Award” handed to her by NED president Carl Gershman and former-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

, in addition to receiving significant financial and political support from the US, also surrounded herself with foreign advisers. This includes Australian economist Sean Turnell who also had contacts with USAID, the US State Department itself, and was an adviser for convicted financial criminal George Soros’ Open Society Foundation which is also deeply involved in interfering in Myanmar’s internal political affairs.

Turnell worked with Aung San Suu Kyi (image,left) on reconfiguring Myanmar’s economy and in particular pivoting it away from China and toward the predatory financial arms of the West, specifically the IMF and World Bank.

Aiding Aung San Suu Kyi in restructuring Myanmar’s legal system – including the rewriting of Myanmar’s constitution – was Robert San Pe – a British citizen.

Also aiding Aung San Suu Kyi was Joseph Fisher who – while serving as Aung San Suu Kyi’s adviser – was also working for the British government’s Foreign Office. He had previously served at the British embassy in Myanmar.

In this light, the February take-over by Myanmar’s military is revealed as urgently necessary. The country had been essentially captured with Myanmar’s “elected leadership” serving as merely an indigenous face for what was essentially a foreign-managed administration.

The subsequent “National Unity Government” (NUG) backed by the US and seeking to contest the military’s control over the country, is made up of several senior opposition leaders who have likewise been drawn from US government-funded fronts interfering in Myanmar’s internal political affairs.

The West is now mobilizing its regime change machinery to place the NUG back into power – regime change machinery finely honed across North Africa and the Middle East throughout the 2011 “Arab Spring,” in Eastern Europe in Ukraine and more recently Belarus, and of course across Asia in places like Hong Kong and even neighboring Thailand where US-backed opposition groups are still taking to the streets.

In fact, protests across Asia have been lumped together into a US State Department project referred to as the “Milk Tea Alliance” in which US-backed opposition groups from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, and other targeted nations openly coordinate their activities both to remove their respective governments from power but to also coordinate attacks on China itself.

China is the largest trade partner and investor in virtually every nation in the region. It is also the largest source of tourism and a key partner in major infrastructure-building campaigns. China also supplies military equipment to many nations in the region including nations like Thailand who are replacing their aging US-made arsenals with modern Chinese alternatives.

Thus, just like the “Arab Spring” was meant to create an arc of chaos across an entire region with the aim of encircling and collapsing Iran and the further encroachment on Russia, the “Milk Tea Alliance” and the coordinated, region-wide instability and now armed violence it entails, aims to do likewise against China.

Slash and Burn Approach to Blocking China’s One Belt, One Road

It’s no secret that the US is opposed to China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative – Beijing’s global infrastructure building-spree that has already seen multiple continent-spanning infrastructure projects built and put into operation with many more either under construction or being proposed.

Publicly, the US claims it is countering China’s OBOR initiative through its own infrastructure campaigns including the “Blue Dot Network” and the recently unveiled “Build Back Better World” (B3W) – both of which mention competition with China as their primary motivation. However, even on paper these proposed alternatives fall flat – and worse still – they have remained solely proposals on paper with not even a single actual infrastructure project even proposed.

Supposed “development” agencies involved in these proposals include USAID, or the “United States Agency for International Development.” Despite including the word “development” in its name, USAID does not actually drive development. Instead, it is a tool used to consolidate control over a targeted nation.

This is best illustrated in its inclusion in many US government “counterinsurgency” manuals, including one published this year (PDF) by the Joint Chiefs of Staff which mentions USAID by name at least 40 times. Such manuals are published by the US government to aid in military intervention and regime change around the globe and in particular, consolidate control over a targeted nation by eliminating “insurgents” opposed to US occupation and Washington’s client regime of choice.

USAID’s role in this process is to provide the basic necessities for populations in order to undermine the authority of political factions slated for dissolution by the US.

Unable to compete on equal terms with Chinese-built infrastructure, the US has adopted another entirely different strategy to deal with the OBOR initiative – a strategy of slash and burn. It seeks to utilize agencies like USAID to undermine the authority of governments inking deals with China and to minimize the positive effects these infrastructure projects will have on populations by offering localized but entirely inadequate alternatives together with the promise of US backing for separatist activities.

Literally everywhere China’s OBOR reaches, the US is funding and backing opposition groups to protest against proposals, physically attack construction sites, and attempt to overthrow the governments signing deals with China and enjoying the benefits of jointly developed infrastructure.

Everywhere from Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province where US-backed separatists have attacked Chinese construction crews building roads, pipelines, and ports – to Thailand where US-backed opposition parties are proposing the non-existent “hyperloop” as an alternative to Thai-Chinese high-speed rail projects – the US is using a combination of political subversion and armed terrorism/separatism to sabotage and obstruct China’s OBOR.

In Myanmar a thorough combination of all these techniques has been applied, and applied for many years.

Wikileaks revealed in a 2010 US diplomatic cable titled, “Burma: Grassroots Opposition to Chinese-backed Dam in Northern Burma,” that US diplomats discussed the success of US embassy-funded “grassroots” opposition groups blocking Chinese-initiated dams. The cable noted:

An unusual aspect of this case is the role grassroots organizations have played in opposing the dam, which speaks to the growing strength of civil society groups in Kachin State, including recipients of Embassy small grants.

Once projects like dams, roads, rails, or ports are blocked in targeted nations like Myanmar, no Western alternative is ever offered.

Instead, organizations like USAID provide provisional infrastructure like solar panels and ad-hoc water towers providing recipient communities with minimum living standards. The goal is to disrupt unifying national projects and encourage local communities to make do without modern infrastructure.

This in itself is arresting development across entire regions – allowing the US to artificially maintain “primacy” over them. This also contributes to separatism, creating communities dependent on US handouts rather than working with their own nation’s government  – which in Myanmar in particular has been the source of decades of armed conflict. This conflict also further arrests development.

All of this is in stark contrast to China’s OBOR which is building physical infrastructure that is transporting goods and people across entire regions and providing food, energy, and water for a growing number of people around the globe – all without political strings attached or armies of foreign-funded “activists” commandeering national policymaking and in turn, hijacking national sovereignty.

Nations have already tangibly benefited from Chinese-led infrastructure projects – including nations like Myanmar where projects have been completed. These include roads, bridges, and dams.

The Irrawaddy Bridge (also known as the Yadanabon Bridge) built by China CAMC Engineering and completed in 2008 – for example – finally allows heavy vehicles to cross the Irrawaddy River from the nation’s northwest to Mandalay and the nation’s interior beyond without using cumbersome ferries.

Also built with China’s help is the Yeywa Dam commissioned in 2010. It includes the nation’s largest hydroelectric power plant, providing energy to nearby Mandalay. It also significantly contributes to flood control.

Opposed to its construction was the so-called “Burma Rivers Network” – an extension of “International Rivers” – funded by Western corporate foundations like Open Society, the Ford Foundation, and the Sigrid Rausing Trust – all admittedly working in parallel with fronts like USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy to advance US government foreign policy objectives.

Before the dam’s completion, Burma Rivers Network made claims including that the power would “likely” be “transmitted to China” – a claim that was and is completely false. The network also made baseless claims that villagers were “forcibly relocated without compensation” and that the dam would jeopardize their livelihood. This livelihood included unsustainable fishing and logging along the river – a livelihood necessitated by a previous lack of infrastructure needed for modern and sustainable economic opportunities.

As other adjacent projects to the Yeywa Dam are either proposed or in the process of being built – these same US-backed networks work tirelessly to derail compensation, relocation, and even public hearings to discuss either in the first place.

In some cases, like the proposed and partially constructed Myitsone Dam, work has been halted not only by US-funded opposition groups politically obstructing progress, but also by armed attacks by US-backed separatist groups.

In a 2014 article in The Guardian entitled, “Burmese villagers exiled from ancestral home as fate of dam remains unclear,” they would admit:

As work got underway, the Kachin Independence Army broke a 17-year-old ceasefire to attack the dam site. In 2010, 10 bombs exploded around the dam site, killing a Chinese worker.

Kachin separatism is openly encouraged by the US as revealed through a series of leaked cables and the US government’s funding of Kachin separatist groups listed on the National Endowment for Democracy’s official website.

Following Libya into the Mass Grave of Developing Nations

It is very clear that Myanmar has benefited from jointly developed infrastructure projects with China. It is also very clear that should these projects continue to be built, reaching into hitherto remote regions where US-backed separatists are based and modern economic opportunities made available, the swamp of US-sponsored divide-and-conquer would begin to be drained.

Myanmar is one of the weakest links in China’s Southeast Asian periphery, a loose shingle the US hopes it might blow the entire roof off of in regards to China’s growing relationship with the nations in the region and cut its OBOR initiative off as part of a much wider campaign of encircling and containing China’s rise.

One needs not speculate as to the likely outcome in Myanmar should US intervention run full course. Libya in 2011 was targeted by a similar campaign of political subversion coupled with armed terrorism which – when eventually backed by US military support and intervention – led to the dissolution of the Libyan government in 2011 and the devolution of Libya into a failed state comprised of multiple warring factions.

Libya’s collapse in 2011 led to the direct dispersal of militants and weapons in all directions, destabilizing the rest of North Africa as well as fuelling US-sponsored militancy in Syria.

A similar scenario where refugees and militants plague the rest of Southeast Asia for years to come is already unfolding in Myanmar. How bad it gets depends on both the Myanmar military’s own ability to restore order within its borders and Myanmar’s neighbors’ ability to prepare for and handle the influx of refugees and instability already spilling over the border.

Washington’s ability to increase pressure on Myanmar’s military depends partly on the West’s ability to control the narrative surrounding the unfolding conflict. The Western media has worked ceaselessly to portray Myanmar’s military as “undemocratic” and its response to what are now clearly armed opposition groups as “disproportionate.” US-funded “human rights” groups have produced a steady stream of “statistics” and “activist claims” to fill up Western news stories to reinforce anti-government narratives and to justify further pressure from the US through institutions like the UN.

It is a similar pattern the US and its allies used both in Libya and in Syria from 2011 onward, as well as in Ukraine in 2013-2014, and more recently in Hong Kong and Thailand.

The success or failure of US slash and burn policy in Myanmar will set the tone for its wider Indo-Pacific strategy and its wider still international rivalry with China. And while it is always easier to destroy than to build, it is also true that once one’s reputation is tarnished, it is difficult if not impossible to rehabilitate it. For Washington, it is a race between destroying fast enough to outpace the global public’s growing awareness of its tactics and those being used to carry them out – and all of this versus China’s clearly more constructive and desirable strategy of building and trading.

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Author Brian Berletic, formerly known under his pen name “Tony Cartalucci,” is Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher, writer and special contributor to 21st Century Wire. See more of his work at Tony’s archive. Over the last decade, his work has been published on a number of popular news and analysis websites, and also on the online magazine New Eastern Outlook”. Also, you can follow him on VK here.

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