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08.07.2022 Author: Brian Berletic

Myanmar MiG-29 Crosses into Thai Airspace: The Rest of the Story

MYA

A recent incident involving a MiG-29 fighter aircraft from Myanmar which flew into Thai airspace triggered political fallout particularly instructive in understanding the current dynamics in both countries as well as across wider Asia.

It also gives a glimpse into the dynamics of the ongoing US-Chinese tensions that are the driving force behind much of the region’s political and military conflicts.

The Incident

The Washington Post in an article titled, “Thailand says Myanmar apologized for airspace violation,” would describe the incident claiming:

Video obtained by The Associated Press shows what appears to be a MiG-29 making several circles into Thai airspace over villages and schools before firing on the Myanmar side. Myanmar’s military has been fighting ethnic Karen guerillas on its side of the border with Thailand.

Thailand is no stranger to armed conflict approaching and even briefly crossing over into Thai territory. Myanmar has been mired in ethnic and political violence since gaining independence from the British in 1948. Clandestine arms trafficking from neighboring nations including Thailand, US-funded political organizations using neighboring nations as a base for operations, as well as refugee camps hosting militants using neighboring territory to evade Myanmar’s military means that fighting often unfolds along border regions.

The current fighting along the Thai border is part of a much wider conflict consuming Myanmar following the February 2021 takeover by the nation’s military, ousting a US-backed client regime headed by Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Following the February take over, violent protests followed by armed conflict plunged Myanmar into nationwide violence ever since. The recent fighting along the border and occasional cross-border incidents will likely continue into the foreseeable future.

The Reaction

The reaction to the brief border crossing by various political factions in neighboring Thailand were likewise divided along lines between US-backed opposition groups and the current government they seek to undermine and replace.

The Washington Post article noted:

Thailand said Friday that neighboring Myanmar has apologized after one of its fighter jets crossed into Thai airspace on a bombing run along the border, forcing authorities to evacuate hundreds of schoolchildren and scramble air force jets to the area.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Thailand did not want to escalate the incident, which took place on Thursday over Phop Phra district in Thailand’s Tak province.

And that:

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Thailand did not want to escalate the incident, which took place on Thursday over Phop Phra district in Thailand’s Tak province.

“The military attaches have spoken to each other, and they have apologized, and our foreign ministries have talked. This may seem like a serious incident, but it depends on us if we want to escalate this. Currently the two sides enjoy a good relationship and are able to talk,” Prayuth told reporters at a public appearance.

Thailand deployed two F-16 fighter aircraft in what was a significantly delayed “intercept,” and lodged a complaint with Myanmar’s government. Both moves were more or less a formality.

Myanmar and Thailand are in relatively good standings with one another as are all ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members. One of the purposes of ASEAN is to maintain regional peace and prosperity and to quickly resolve disagreements. Non-interference in the internal political affairs of neighboring nations is also a guiding principle.

Despite significant pressure placed by the United States on all ASEAN members to interfere in Myanmar’s ongoing conflict, besides token gestures, ASEAN has remained relatively uninvolved.

Political opposition groups in Thailand condemned the Thai government’s reaction, stating that the brief incursion was indeed a serious threat to Thailand implying that the Thai military should have responded with force. The condemnation is meant to stoke public outrage and pressure the Thai government into overreacting in the future.

This same opposition has on several occasions staged protests regarding Myanmar and the Thai government’s refusal to interfere. ABC News in a March 2021 article titled, “Thai marchers link their democracy cause to Myanmar protests,” as well as many other publications across the West would report on growing “cooperation” between various regional protest groups.

The Implications

In addition to political opportunism, the condemnation by Thailand’s opposition is linked to the fact that the US government is backing both the Thai opposition as well as their counterparts in Myanmar. Both groups are members of the wider so-called “Milk Tea Alliance,” a regional alliance consisting of anti-China organizations funded by the US. Just as US-sponsored opposition groups supported each other during the 2011 “Arab Spring,” the “Milk Tea Alliance” pools its resources, helping amplify the impact of their individual and collective political objectives.

The “Milk Tea Alliance” is a stand-in for a US-led Southeast Asian “NATO.” No current government in the region seeks to risk economic prosperity and tangible development through trade and partnership with China to join any sort of US-led effort to confront and contain China so Washington has built a parallel network of political parties, media organizations, and social movements in a bid to coerce current governments to adopt an anti-China stance or overthrow and replace them if they do not.

Both Myanmar and Thailand in particular have close and growing relationships with China. Thailand counts China as its largest trade partner and is building a high-speed rail line that will connect it to China via the now completed Laos-China high speed railway.

Myanmar hosts infrastructure for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) including bridges, roads, hydroelectric dams, and pipelines which move hydrocarbons from Rakhine state located on the Bay of Bengal to Yunnan province in China. The latter project is of particular importance because it allows China to circumvent various straits, waters, and ports repeatedly designated as potential targets by US military planners, that if blocked or disrupted, would destroy China’s economy.

The US-backed opposition in Myanmar has even attacked BRI infrastructure and other Chinese investments, highlighting the anti-Chinese agenda of US political meddling in Myanmar and across the wider region.

In February of this year, Myanmar opposition media, the Irrawaddy (funded by the US government through the National Endowment for Democracy), would report in their article, “China-Backed Pipeline Facility Damaged in Myanmar Resistance Attack,” that:

An off-take station of the China-backed oil and gas pipelines was damaged when a local resistance group attacked regime forces guarding the facility in Mandalay Region’s Natogyi Township…

The article also claimed:

Anti-Chinese sentiment swelled in Myanmar following the military coup last February, with many people believing Beijing had a hand in the takeover. At that time, there were calls for a boycott of Chinese products, along with calls to blow up the pipelines if China refused to condemn the regime.

In reality, violent opposition movements in Myanmar, Thailand, and beyond are part of a wider proxy conflict the United States is waging against China. In addition to direct tensions with China through sanctions, interference, and threats of military violence, the US is also undermining Chinese-friendly governments along China’s periphery.

The brief incursion by Myanmar’s MiG-29 aircraft and the quick resolution of the incident with the Thai government reflects a growing regional awareness this proxy conflict.

The US-backed opposition in Thailand calling for rash, confrontational measures reflects the same irrational, self-destructive agenda the US-backed government in Kiev adopted from 2014 onward and whose fate provides a glimpse into the divisive, even deadly policies that would be quickly implemented by a US-backed anti-Chinese government in Southeast Asia.

Thailand, should the US-backed opposition come to power in upcoming elections, would be much more inclined to escalate toward open conflict with Myanmar as well as eagerly adopt measures demanded by the US in terms of economically and diplomatically isolating Myanmar, all while uprooting and overturning Thai-Chinese relations back home. It’s an alarming prospect the US-backed Thai opposition’s reaction to this recent cross-border incident serves as a warning for.

Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

 


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