In Part Two of a three-part series, Thomas David Dowling explores the limits of applying Extinction Rebellion tactics in Myanmar.
This is a three-part article on the Extinction Rebellion in Myanmar. In Part One, I outline some important vectors of environmental insecurity in Myanmar, focusing on the Extinction Rebellion Movement and introducing some current environmental activist groups and issues in Myanmar. Part Two considers what might be the biggest challenges of the use of XR tactics in Myanmar, as outlined in their handbook. Part Three asks the question of whether a new XR branch is needed in Myanmar, or if that role is not already filled by existing groups such as Climate Strike Myanmar. A conclusion then follows, advocating for groups like CSM to serve as a more optimal instrument of change in Myanmar.
If one is convinced of the Union’s environmental insecurity and the need to address vulnerabilities from this security sector, then it may have seemed reasonable to hypothesize in October 2018 that it would not take long for larger-scale climate change protests utilizing Extinction Rebellion tactics to arise in Myanmar, as I did.
This assertion has so far been proven wrong.
I contend that three key impedimenta exist, which, in part, account for XR’s absence in the country: (1) XR’s modus operandi; (2) the low prioritization of environmental issues; and a set of two practical considerations pertaining to the capital and law enforcement (3).
Several other impedimenta to the utilization of XR tactics in Myanmar exist. I discuss two below: demonstrating in the capital and law enforcement.
As outlined in the Handbook, XR offers a civil resistance model that emphasizes a large mass of demonstrators—ideally 50,000—undertaking a range of disobedience in the country’s capital (erecting temporary barricades, getting arrested etc). These related tactics aim to impact the finances of both the government and its leading actors, force policymakers to confront the climate emergency (as XR understands it), and attract media to the group’s demands (which in turn provides a political platform that’s harder to ignore, thus forcing change).
However, heading to Myanmar’s capital for these purposes may prove fruitless. In economic terms, shutting down praetorian Naypyidaw with barriers or by gluing protesters onto immovable infrastructure is unlikely to impact the government economically given that Yangon remains the commercial center. Likewise, many lawmakers are from Yangon and continue to spend much of their time there; XR-inspired demands may well be missed or otherwise ignored by the very policymakers that it would be necessary to influence. Moreover, despite substantial writing about media liberalization under Thein Sein (e.g. Victoria Milko), there is concern that some media freedoms have withered under ASSK. Elsewhere, the state retains significant input in shaping the discourse and dissemination of content, particularly in the GNLM, widely recognized as the regime’s mouthpiece.
It is pertinent, therefore, to ask whether the effort (and risk) of amassing a large civil movement in Naypyidaw would be effective; to my mind at least, Naypyidaw feels like a tactical non-starter for hypothetical XR. Blockading Yangon, in contrast—where CSM have peacefully protested on a number of occasions—would stand a better chance of success according to XR’s strategic imperatives.
Thomas Dowling is a Ph.D student with the University of Leicester. His primary research interests revolve around environmental security in Myanmar (particularly in the context of human security), viewed through the prism of securitisation theory. Thomas is also well-travelled in Myanmar, and lived in Taunggyi, Shan State for a short while. Previously, Thomas earned degrees in Ancient History (BA, MA; Bristol University) and International Security Studies (MA; Leicester University). Presently, Thomas lives in Daegu, South Korea, with his wife, baby, and Jack Russell.