Myanmar Coup and US Relations

East Asia Regional Issues
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On February 1 st 2021 the Tatmadow, Myanmar’s military, officially declared a year-long state of emergency ultimately declaring that Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of Defense services had absolute power. In the early morning hours of the raid, various communication means like the internet, state-run MRTV, and phone lines to the capital no longer worked. President Win Myint, state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, members of Parliament, as well as ministers and their deputies were apprehended. Tatmadow had ousted democratically elected members of Myanmar’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) from position.

​There had been rumors for several days about a possible coup attempt. The Myanmar coup prevented the Myanmar Parliament from swearing in members that were elected at the 2020 November General election. The National League for Democracy had won the 2020 November election with 396 out of the 476 seats in Parliament. The Tatmadow claimed that those votes were fraudulent even though the civilian appointed Union Election Commission rejected the claims made by Tatmadow of the 8.6 million deviations in voter list through the 314 townships in Myanmar. There have been questions raised about whether or not the coup was done legally and the NLD has rejected the legal justification for the military overthrow.

​In response to the coup, the Yangon Stock Exchange suspended its trading. Then, on November 2 nd , protests began throughout the country and elsewhere. Thai pro-democracy activists and about 200 Myanmar natives protested the coup at the Burmese embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. A Civil Disobedience Campaign was started by civil servants and healthcare workers, extending onto Facebook where it quickly gained over 100,000 followers. In Tokyo Japan, Myanmar citizens protested against the coup in front of the United Nations. Citizens in Yangon made noise to show their disapproval of the coup. Amata, Thailand’s largest industrial estate developer, suspended a $1 billion industrial zone development project in Yangon. Police then put a halt to these protest leaving 2 injured and 2 dead.

​As far as the United States is concerned, an article in the South China Morning Post written by Kishore Mahbubani, an experienced Singaporean diplomat, said that the coup, “could quietly jump-start discreet geopolitical cooperation between Beijing and the new Biden administration.” President Biden’s response to the Myanmar coup is very important and will test his ability to assert his belief that American foreign policy will clearly communicate American values.

​Mr. Biden’s response to the coup will also demonstrate his competence regarding his ability to work with China, and his potential challenge to Beijing for military and economic dominance in the Pacific. Although Myanmar does minimal trade with the US, they are a leading partner that President Biden requires to assert the sanctions against China that are constructing most of the remote country’s infrastructure.

​Mr. Biden has talked with Republican leader Mitch McConnell as well as a variety of nations across southeast Asia. There are not really many options open to Mr. Biden. It was on February 11th that President Biden placed the order to impose immediate sanctions towards military leaders, immediate family members, and officials and business interests that were connected with the junta. President Biden took further action saying that the US government would freeze any US assets that promote the military regime as well as issue aggressive export controls. Along with President Biden’s order, the Treasury Department named 10 former and current military officials that were culpable for the February 1st coup or that were connected to the military regime.

This was the first major action that the US government has taken, and along with this step, Mr. Biden ordered that the generals recover democracy and let Myanmar’s civilian leader go free. President Biden made it widely known about his decision to inflict sanctions that would keep the generals who organized the coup in Myanmar from obtaining any of the funds that their government retains in the United States. This will prohibit bank funds until approved by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control. Unlike broad sanctions, the new actions were targeted and were focused specifically on the “Specially Designated Nationals,” a blacklist of foreign nationals that were restricted from gaining entry or doing business in the United States.

​Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing was part of the 10 people listed by the Treasury Department. The executive order also impacts anyone doing business with individuals on the SDN list. That order gives authority to freeze any US held or US located property and interest. That means that anyone restricted by these sanctions will be denied access to properties under the ban of US dealings. These steps help prevent the target’s ability to acquire supplies from various industries. Non-US companies choosing to do business in Myanmar must do so carefully so that sanctions are not violated which could result in ramifications. Protesters throughout Myanmar have taken part in the online movement aimed on boycotting any products that are affiliated with military.

​Biden administration officials understand their need to continue the pressure campaign on Myanmar and the importance of doing so in a manner that will not cause the generals to move more towards the arms of China. Having an isolated Myanmar, and difference of opinion in the region, could create openings that would pave the way for other powers to part ways with Beijing.


Robinson, Gwen. “ US sanctions on Myanmar: 5 things to know. Accessed February 13, 2021

Newman, Scott. “U.S. ‘Stands With The People, ‘Imposes Sanctions on Myanmar’s Coup Leaders.” Published February 11, 2021

Sanger, David. “Biden Imposes Sanctions on Generals Who Engineered Myanmar Coup.” Published February 10, 2021

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