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The MSM can’t wait to use the Myanmar crisis as another stick to beat China with in their ideological war on Beijing

Tom Fowdy
Tom Fowdy

is a British writer and analyst of politics and international relations with a primary focus on East Asia.

is a British writer and analyst of politics and international relations with a primary focus on East Asia.

The MSM can’t wait to use the Myanmar crisis as another stick to beat China with in their ideological war on Beijing
The media are desperate to paint what is happening in Myanmar as part of the wider ideological struggle between the West and Beijing. But this rather conveniently ignores what is happening on the ground.

The crisis in Myanmar is rumbling on as the military consolidates its rule over the country. Today it was announced that former leader Aung San Suu Kyi is to be held in custody for at least another two weeks.

The mainstream media in the West, however, have already decided how they want to frame the situation. Leading stories on the BBC and Wall Street Journal websites have sought to decisively paint the coup as a geopolitical confrontation between the United States and China, which, of course, shares a border with Myanmar.

The BBC plays up the fact that Beijing has vetoed a United Nations Security Council statement condemning the coup, while the WSJ emphasizes the rivalry between the two powers in Asia.

This framing is not surprising, but it is also misleading because China has no direct involvement in what is happening on the ground, nor even a preference as to the outcome.

Yet the reports speak volumes. The Western media want to use the situation in Myanmar to amplify their ideological narrative of a threat from China. In turn, any resistance to the new military junta will be used as part of a broader anti-China sentiment, as when, for example, a BBC report highlighted “civil disobedience.”

This aligns with the broader scope of coverage of recent protests in Asian countries like Thailand and Hong Kong, with the implicit goal of the reportage being to advance Western geopolitical objectives.

It’s important, though, to establish the facts, and what’s clear is that China has nothing to do with the crisis in Myanmar. As I reported previously, the fragility of the country’s democracy is a product of its unstable political institutions, insufficient state legitimacy and long-term interethnic conflict.

Beijing takes a position of non-interference in Myanmar’s affairs. It made no protest when the state made an attempt at democratic transformation. And it gave no encouragement to this coup. The key thing that matters for China is, in fact, maintaining the underlining stability in that area. So, objectively speaking, what is happening now is bad news, as opposed to something that might be ideologically favourable.

Of course, the mainstream media in the West is taking a dogmatic position by depicting the situation in Myanmar as a simple game of “right vs. wrong” and “good vs. evil,” which tends to be its approach to all international events.

Therefore, unlike Beijing, Western foreign policymakers and media have a direct stake in attaining an outcome which is favourable to their belief system. In their eyes, Myanmar should become a democracy again, and therefore it is assumed that because China will not intervene in favour of this position, Beijing is blocking this path to democracy and thus must naturally “support” authoritarianism in Yangon, as opposed to popular rule. Hence some outlets believe the coup is positive for China because the military junta will depend more on Beijing.

Also on rt.com Myanmar’s military coup is no surprise. Democracy there was built on very weak foundations and always destined to fail

This coverage is deliberately misleading. The attempt to tie China to the new regime in the country is disingenuous, because it is hoped, in turn, that an attempt to restore democracy to Myanmar will be an embarrassment for Beijing if it prevails. Thus, not surprisingly, a number of outlets, including the BBC, are focusing on unrest and “civil disobedience” throughout the country.

It should be clear by now that the Western mainstream media happily cherry-picks stories about the political unrest and violence that it perceives as useful to its position, while playing down and dismissing that which is not. For example, in 2019, the Hong Kong protests were given maximum coverage and backing by various Western broadcasters, yet violent unrest in Iraq, Ecuador and other locations was ignored.

What matters is the stake in the specific outcome of that unrest, and this reveals a pattern that we might see continuing in Myanmar. Irrespective of its cause or motivations, political unrest in East Asia is perceived as potentially problematic for China, and therefore amplified and encouraged, as it forms part of a broader attempt to try to contain Chinese aspirations. If protests have a pro-democracy dynamic to them, so much the better.

Declassified White House documents on the Indo-Pacific strategy talk about empowering activists and reformers in the region, so it is no surprise that even if events are not specifically related to China, they are being weaponized to make an ideological point against Beijing in the wider game. 

Nor is it unexpected that the Western mainstream media and allied policymakers want to depict all that is happening in Myanmar as part of a zero-sum game concerning China’s influence and dominance in the region. For these voices, the democratic transformation of Myanmar is not so much a desired outcome for the people of that country. Rather, Myanmar is merely a piece on a chess board, where the wider game is pushing an ideological vision.

This is why we are seeing coverage that is so keen to frame Beijing as being somehow complicit in the ongoing turbulence, even though the reality on the ground is more nuanced, and Myanmar will continue to have close ties with China whether it is a democracy or not. 

The Western media are desperate to imply that China has a stake in defending this new status quo against the righteous visionaries of the West because it supports their bid to try to advance what they see as a global struggle against Xi Jinping and the new world order that he is supposedly trying to build. Therefore, they reason, they must act against him because of this outrageous threat.

But the reality is actually quite different.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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