Myanmar’s military regime, which came to power in a February 2021 coup, is in serious trouble. The military leader senior general Min Aung Hlaing has admitted that the country could split if his forces are unable to stop an insurrection in the huge and lawless Shan state which borders China, the junta’s largest trading partner. Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun has separately conceded that several northern towns have fallen to the Three Brotherhood Alliance which has overrun dozens of military posts, forced the surrender of hundreds of soldiers and cut off the junta’s access to the 2,000 kilometers of the Chinese border.
Jason Tower, Myanmar program director for a US-funded think tank, said about half the entire countryside was in the hands of insurgent groups which have, for example, cut oil and gas pipelines from the Bay of Bengal to the China border. The junta still controls the main cities, at any rate from the barracks, and has firm control of the capital Naypyitaw and the commercial hub of Yangon. The problem is that the fighting is getting closer to urban centers and even garrisoned towns are under threat.
There is speculation that senior general Myint will be forced to resign, although it is not clear who is successor would be and whether he could be any more effective in countering a civil war. In the south of the country, the Karen National Liberation Army has attacked towns which link Yangon with the Thai border. There are rumors that members of the State Administration Council (as the junta calls itself) have already bought properties in Thailand, to flee to if necessary. Some generals are believed to be in favour of a less incompetent leader who would enter negotiations with the disparate resistance groups. It would be no easy task.
The consequences of Myanmar’s internal chaos are far-reaching for its relations with other countries. Russia and China have both supplied arms to the junta, but China’s support has waned the Myanmar authorities have failed to check the growing number of cyberscam gangs operating in the border regions. Thailand has followed an ambivalent policy towards post-coup Myanmar and the Thai army maintains good relationships with its senior colleagues over the border. The deteriorating security situation means that foreign tourism, which had shown some small signs of picking up in the last 12 months, is again dead on its feet. Unless there is very soon international intervention to steady the political chaos, Myanmar could be on a course for total collapse or ad hoc division into separatist regions.