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U.N. Security Council Meets on Myanmar

As world leaders line up to denounce the coup, Beijing’s reaction has been more cautious.

By Colm Quinn, the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Military vehicles are seen along a road in Mandalay, Myanmar, on February 2, 2021.
Military vehicles are seen along a road in Mandalay, Myanmar, on February 2, 2021. Stringer/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.N. Security Council meets to discuss Myanmar, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan floats plans for new constitution, and Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine challenges presidential election results.

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U.N. Security Council Meets on Myanmar

The U.N. Security Council will hold a meeting today to discuss Myanmar’s military coup, as world leaders unite in condemning the power grab.

U.S. President Joe Biden, stopping short of calling the takeover a coup, said the military’s actions “necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action,” as he pledged to “stand up for democracy.”

European leaders largely echoed Biden’s concern: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson quickly condemned the “coup” and called for the release of the detained democratic leaders as Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said much the same.

In Southeast Asia, the reaction has been more complicated. Although leaders in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia have all expressed concern, Philippines Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the military action was not a coup, rather it was a “chess move,” while Cambodian leader Hun Sen refused to be drawn on what he deemed Myanmar’s “internal affairs.”

Despite these differences, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) released a short statement which included the call for a “return to normalcy.”

The China question. The most important gauge of whether the military junta will maintain total control is the reaction of China, Myanmar’s largest trading partner. In a sign of where Chinese leaders may stand on the issue, Chinese news agency Xinhua, in a news item posted Tuesday, described the coup as a “cabinet reshuffle.”

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin also gave a muted response. “We have noted what has happened in Myanmar and are in the process of further understanding the situation,” he said.

As Azeem Ibrahim writes in Foreign Policy much depends on whether China had given tacit backing to the coup in advance. If it didn’t, Ibrahim writes, “Beijing might resent being forced into supporting the domestic political designs of a minnow client state” and seek a way to punish Myanmar’s military—opening the door to joint cooperation with the U.S.

If China is backing the coup, then the United States should force them to admit it, Ibrahim says, starting with today’s U.N. Security Council meeting.

The view from the ground. Andrew Nachemson reports from Yangon, where supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD are lying low, “wary that the military may try to goad them into a trap.”

What We’re Following Today

A new Turkish constitution? Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested changing Turkey’s constitution—just four years after a sweeping constitutional overhaul transformed Turkey’s government structure to give more powers to the presidency. The move appears to be geared towards blocking the pro-Kurdish HDP—who currently holds more than 60 seats in Turkish parliament—after such a possibility was raised by Devlet Bahceli, whose Nationalist Movement Party is allied with Erdogan.

In a veiled reference to the HDP, the Turkish president said on Monday that work on a new constitution “is not something that can be done under the shadow of groups linked to the terrorist organization (PKK) with people whose mental and emotional ties to their country are broken.”

Bolsonaro’s breathing room. Allies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro were elected to lead Brazil’s upper and lower houses of Congress on Monday, cooling the possibility of impeachment as the president faces protests over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking to the Financial Times, newly elected lower house speaker Arthur Lira said his two-year term would focus on economic reforms and keeping a cap on government spending.

Bobi Wine’s election challenge. The party of Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine has filed a formal challenge to the results of January’s presidential election, alleging mass fraud and voter intimidation. George Musisi, the lawyer for Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP), has called for the poll to be “cancelled and repeated.” In response, President Yoweri Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement party spokesman accused Wine of sour grapes. “[Wine] is trying to give his supporters a soft landing but inside himself he knows he lost genuinely,” the spokesman said.

Keep an Eye On

India’s growth. India’s economy is projected to grow by 11 percent in the next fiscal year, according to government projections released as part of its budget announcement on Monday. The projections, which would make it the fastest growing major economy in the world, come with a downside as the economy is likely to contract by 7.7 percent this fiscal year.

Iran’s new rocket. Iran displayed new advances in its rocket technology on Monday with a test launch featuring its largest solid fuel-propelled engine yet. Iranian officials said the new rocket, called Zuljanah, will be used to carry satellites into below-orbit—although Western observers fear the technology could be easily transferred to long-range missiles. The rocket launch follows the successful deployment of Iran’s first military reconnaissance satellite last April.

Odds and Ends

The health of South Africa’s rhino population is a rare instance of good news for the country amid its raging coronavirus epidemic: The effects of lockdown mean the number of animals killed by hunters dropped by a third in 2020. Numbers remain high, however: 394 rhinos were killed in 2020, compared to 594 in 2019.

 Environment Minister Barbara Creecy welcomed the news, but warned of an uptick in poaching around December, when lockdown measures were eased.

Overall, the number of rhinos killed each year has been on a downward trend since 2015, as international cooperation improves and poachers are caught and convicted at higher rates.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn