UN delays Myanmar representation decision

December 5, 2022 3:20 pm

The question of who represents Myanmar at the UN remains unresolved. [Source: Aljazeera]

Geopolitical tensions have escalated since Russia invaded Ukraine, and Moscow has moved even closer to Myanmar’s coup leaders.

The United Nations has delayed a decision on who should represent Myanmar amid concern that Russia, which has become increasingly close to Myanmar’s coup leaders, could sabotage efforts to reach an international consensus on the crisis-torn country.

The UN’s Credentials Committee, composed of nine UN-member states, including China, Russia and the United States, started meeting on November 29. Under consideration is who should represent Myanmar: sitting UN Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, appointed by the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi, or a nominee of the generals who staged the coup that overthrew her government in February 2021.

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The committee will submit its recommendations to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which usually rubber stamps the advice given.

The question over Myanmar’s UN representation reflects the added difficulties facing the anti-coup movement at a time when geopolitical tensions have escalated after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Described as “two authoritarian powers… operating together” by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the split between Russia and China on one side, and other parts of international community has widened, analysts say, and strongman Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping have shown less appetite to compromise.

Despite that, the US, China and Russia would probably prefer not to have a public spat over Myanmar’s representation, said veteran diplomat and former Dutch ambassador to Myanmar Laetitia van den Assum.

“These powers have enough major issues on their plates as it is. At the same time, however, China and Russia would no doubt like to see Kyaw Moe Tun go.”

Kyaw Moe Tun, who remained in his post after the coup, voted this year to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to suspend Russia’s membership at the UN Human Rights Council. He is backed by Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), established by the country’s elected and now-removed legislators.

Both Beijing and Moscow have publicly backed senior general Min Aung Hlaing’s pariah regime, even as countries in Southeast Asia toughened up their previously-lukewarm pushback against the military. More than 2,500 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown since it seized power in February 2021, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a civil society group monitoring the situation.

The UN Credentials Committee had originally agreed to keep Kyaw Moe Tun for another year, according to a Western diplomat involved in the process. “The worry all along is Russia,” the diplomat said.

Now that the decision has been delayed, critics worry that it opens the door for Russia to pick a fight on behalf of the internationally-isolated Myanmar military. Failure to reach a consensus at the committee would lead to a vote in the UNGA.

“Moscow could be problematic, should they choose to be. While they accepted the NUG to control the representation in the UN in 2021, Russia is in a very different place diplomatically today following their invasion of Ukraine and their military setbacks,” Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in the US who focuses on Southeast Asian politics.

“I don’t want to overstate Naypyidaw’s importance to Moscow. It is a second-tier client-state, but today Russia has few friends, and Min Aung Hlaing has been sycophantic towards President Putin, in his desperate attempt to garner international legitimacy.”