China and Russia have blocked the UN from condemning the ongoing military coup in Myanmar. The 15-member UN Security Council met on 2 February to vote on a joint statement after Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing on 1 February seized control of the country, detaining hundreds of lawmakers including President Win Myint and the de facto head of government Aung San Suu Kyi.
The coup followed the November 2020 election that the military claims was fraudulent, with the military imposing a year-long state of emergency.
The Myanmar police, which operates under the military, charged Suu Kyi with breaching import laws and using illegal communication devices – walkie-talkies – on Wednesday, the media reported. The police also charged Win Myint with violating COVID-19 rules, per the media report.
The UN statement sought to “condemn the military coup” and call on the military to “immediately release those unlawfully detained,” according to a draft seen by Politico.
However, the council was unable to issue that statement as UN ambassadors from China and Russia said they would need the respective blessings of Beijing and Moscow before agreeing, the Associated Press reported.
“China and Russia have asked for more time,” a diplomat told the news agency. As permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and Russia are able to veto or delay the body’s activities.
Issuing a joint statement is the first step to enforcing sanctions and Sherine Tadros, the deputy director of advocacy at Amnesty International told another news agency AP that the council needed to act.
“The Security Council must impose a comprehensive global arms embargo on Myanmar, and crucially, refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court,” Tadros said, adding that the council should freeze Min Aung Hlaing’s assets.
Nations can enforce sanctions on Myanmar themselves, but for the UN to issue one takes a resolution, which looks unlikely given China and Russia’s reticence.
On 2 February, the US State Department had officially labelled the takeover as a “coup,” meaning it cannot offer help to the new military regime. The US is a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
On the ground in Myanmar, people are expressing their outrage.Local activists launched the “Civil Disobedience Movement” on Facebook on 2 February, AFP reported, adding that as of Wednesday morning it had amassed nearly 150,000 followers.
China has a long history of defending the Myanmar junta besides being reticent in labelling the takeover as a “coup”. China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner, owning major oil and gas pipelines in the country, and is currently working on establishing the “China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.”
“China is a friendly neighbor of Myanmar’s,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, Reuters reported. “We hope that all sides in Myanmar can appropriately handle their differences under the constitution and legal framework and safeguard political and social stability.” On 1 February the state-run Xinhua news agency referred to the coup as a “cabinet reshuffle.”
While many nations shunned Myanmar when it was a military dictatorship between 1962 and 2011, China stood by it and has also cultivated healthy ties with Suu Kyi since she became leader in 2015.
China defended Myanmar and Suu Kyi as they faced of allegations of genocide. Suu Kyi is accused of driving at least 740,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country since August 2017, according to Human Rights Watch. In late January 2020, the UN’s International Court of Justice ruled that Myanmar must “take all measures” to prevent the genocide of the ethnic minority.
That same month, China said that it “firmly supports Myanmar’s efforts to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests and national dignity in the international arena,” AFP reported.
Russia and China have blocked UN actions regarding Myanmar in the past, having in 2007 vetoed a UN draft resolution that called on the country’s military regime at the time to release political prisoners and stop violating human rights.