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Junta Watch: Regime’s Ties With India, Russia and Some Christian Leaders Flourish

Junta Watch

Min Aung Hlaing attends the opening ceremony for a new technological university in Naypyitaw on Sunday. / Cincds

India deepens ties with Myanmar junta

Junta-appointed Union Minister for Commerce U Aung Naing Oo speaks at the annual general meeting of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata, India on Nov. 11. / GNLM

Amid criticism over the increasingly close cooperation between the Myanmar military regime and India, the world’s largest democracy, junta-appointed Minister for Commerce U Aung Naing Oo was invited as an honorary guest to a business meeting in the country last week.

U Aung Naing Oo attended the annual general meeting of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata on Nov. 11.

The former military officer, who has been helping to find sources of financing for Min Aung Hlaing’s sanctions-hit regime, delivered an address at the “Special Session on India-Myanmar Trade Relations” event, according to junta media. The speech focused on clarifying prospects for further promotion of bilateral trade and investment between the two neighbors.

The minister also urged Indian businessmen to purchase more beans and pulses from Myanmar, and to use the local currencies, the Myanmar kyat and Indian rupee, in bilateral trade.

Just before his “promotion” trip to India, the Min Aung Hlaing loyalist dispatched commercial attachés to other countries tasked with promoting trade and investment.

Following his appointment as minister for investment and foreign economic relations in the aftermath of the Feb. 1, 2021 coup, U Aung Naing Oo sacked ministry employees who refused to work for the regime and went on strike.

With international economic sanctions and a domestic boycott of payments of any kind to the regime—including utility bills and buying state lottery tickets—creating a financial crisis for the regime, U Aung Naing Oo has helped attract foreign investment to Myanmar for the military junta.

Shunned by the world, invader and dictator go hand in glove

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing receives a Russian delegation led by director Alexander Shatirov of Roscongress Investments Fund in Naypyitaw on Nov. 11. / CINCDS

Following the visit of a Russian delegation from Fund RC-Investments, an investment platform of the Roscongress Foundation, sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin on a special mission to promote commercial ties with Myanmar, junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said on Nov. 11 that Myanmar will export hundreds of tons of fishery products to Russia and organize a gems expo in a few months to come.

During their visit to Myanmar last week, the Russian delegation paid a call on junta chief Min Aung Hlaing and also met with the ministers concerned to discuss promotion of trade and investment, direct payment in rubles and kyats between the two countries, and cooperation in a wide range of sectors from tourism, agriculture, mining, manufacturing, electricity and energy to culture and education. The two sides also signed a memorandum of understanding on trade and investment.

We will have to wait and see how far the expanded bilateral trade between the two sanctioned countries goes, but jet fighters, fuel and arms from Russia are contributing a great deal to Min Aung Hlaing’s ability to maintain his grip on power. Moscow is also helping to build a modular nuclear reactor project for the regime.

Junta-appointed Science and Technology Minister Dr. Myo Kyaw Thein in now in Russia on a research trip and to attend the Russian Federation 12th ATOMEXPO-2022 International Forum.

Min Aung Hlaing, a true jack of all trades

The economic chaos that has gripped Myanmar since last year’s coup can be largely attributed to Min Aung Hlaing’s unfortunate habit of sticking his oar in everything. It is the sort of narcissistic personality trait typical of dictators.

The latest proof of this came when the junta dictator made believe he was a health and wellness expert, instructing obese department staff to fast for 36 hours to shred themselves.

Staff from two ministries—Defense and Home Affairs—were the first to receive the instruction. It called for supervision at different levels of those with a high body mass index (BMI), especially those who are obese, in their weight loss journey; monitoring of their efforts and close supervision of those who aren’t making progress; and most importantly, that the progress must be real and not just on paper.

Meanwhile, military mouthpiece Myawady Daily has been featuring health articles, preaching the merits of intermittent fasting for health and weight loss.

Officials might have put on some weight as they try to make as much hay as possible while the sun shines, and line their pockets while the military is in power, while rank-and-file employees might not have much work to do as the regime’s administration is not functioning—and thus started developing bulging bellies, sitting for long hours at their desks and killing time before they go home.

The junta’s Ministry of Health and Sports has not yet received such an instruction from the regime boss. When it does, perhaps U Kyaw Oo, deputy director-general of the Sports and Physical Education Department, who is visibly obese, will be the first to carry out the instruction in his ministry.

Christian leaders rebuked for accepting titles from junta chief

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo cuts a Christmas cake with junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in Yangon on Dec. 23, 2021.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, whose forces have damaged churches in many parts of the country in artillery strikes while carrying out his orders, conferred titles on the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, and the heads of other Christian organizations on Thursday as Myanmar marked its 102nd National Day.

Six Christian leaders including Charles Maung Bo were recipients of Thiri Pyanchi, a title traditionally given to those who have done great work for the country. The six drew criticism from Christian communities for accepting the titles from the regime at a time when it faces growing pressure at home and abroad, and is pushing ahead with a sham election.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo also came under fire at Christmas last year after pictures of him cutting a cake with the coup leader were circulated on social media.

The regime has targeted churches in Chin and Kayah states, claiming resistance fighters, whom it labels “terrorists”, are hiding in religious buildings. The regime has not only shot at or shelled churches, but also torched them. Junta troops have also been deployed in churches and destroyed religious statues.

Min Aung Hlaing also conferred titles on U Khin Yi, the current chairman of the military’s political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP); former USDP chairman U Than Htay; U Soe Thane, who served as President’s Office minister in the U Thein Sein government; as well as members of the regime’s governing body, the State Administration Council, cabinet members, and generals serving in the Defense Ministry.