People protesting on the streets of Myanmar after a military coup are doing so under very different circumstances than at previous demonstrations in the country, according to an analyst with the policy research firm Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Police clashes with protesters on Tuesday, according to Reuters, in which four people were injured, including one serious injury. It was the most violent day of anti-military protests that month when the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi was overthrown.
“This is what people have feared all week as these protests grew and you had tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw,” Gregory Poling, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia at CSIS, told CNBC ” Squawk Box Asia “on Wednesday.
Protesters ride scooters in a large convoy demonstration against the military coup in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on February 7, 2021.
STR | AFP | Getty Images
He explained that these protests were very different from the large-scale demonstrations that took place in 2007, known as the “Saffron Revolution”, triggered by the military government’s decision to raise fuel prices.
“This is a Myanmar that has spent the last 10 years opening up to the world and democratizing,” said Poling. “Most citizens have mobile Internet access – or before the coup. Most people on the streets probably don’t remember the Saffron Revolution directly and certainly have no memory of 1988.”
Nationwide protests, marches and riots broke out in Myanmar in 1988 in what is sometimes referred to as the 1988 Uprising.
“That could be both good and bad because it can very well convince them that the military will not crack down on them,” Poling said of the current protesters. “Or maybe it gives them the confidence to go out and show the generals that they are not ruling the same Myanmar as they were 15 years ago.”
He said that while it was a “remarkably dangerous moment” for Myanmar, the junta did not immediately jump to the worst answer. In previous protests, protesters had been raided and killed while many were arrested.
Protesters in the capital Naypyitaw and other cities like Mandalay were injured by security forces, Reuters reported, citing local media. The agency reported that police mostly shot in the air and used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters. CNBC was unable to independently verify these reports.
The United States has condemned the military takeover and threatened sanctions. Beijing’s reaction has been milder, as the State Department in recent press conferences characterized China as “Myanmar’s friendly neighbor” and called for solutions that would ensure its political and social stability.
However, China, Japan, Singapore and Thailand have a greater impact on the Myanmar economy than the US.
“I think the real question is what Japan is doing because it is the only one of those key players that is likely to inflict economic pain on the generals,” he said.
Japan’s deputy defense minister warned earlier this month that if the world closes channels of communication with Myanmar’s military generals in response to the coup, it could bring the Southeast Asian nation closer to China, local reports said.