Myanmar’s foreign policy after the coup: back to negative neutralism?

The February 1st military takeover and ensuing popular protests represent a landmark moment in Myanmar’s recent history, capable of reshaping both its internal political landscape and the country’s foreign policy trajectory. After a decade of gradual rapprochement with Western stakeholders, the coup is expected to deal a major blow to Naypyidaw’s diversification efforts in the international arena, which had previously allowed Myanmar to break the chains of diplomatic isolation and mitigate its overdependence on China. How is the ruling junta going to react to mounting international scrutiny and possible sanctions? Will it seek protection in Beijing’s shadow by adopting a bandwagoning attitude vis-à-vis the PRC? And what to expect from Naypyidaw’s future posture and involvement within the ranks of ASEAN? The presentation seeks to shed light on the dilemmas currently faced by Myanmar’s military leadership by looking at the country’s strategic culture and troubled history with praetorian regimes. It argues that under military rule the pendulum of Myanmar’s foreign policy will likely swing back to a reactive and defensive practice of ‘negative neutralism’, which stands in stark contrast with the hedging blueprint pursed under the Thein Sein administration (2011–2016), and, to a lesser extent, during Aung San Suu Kyi’s mandate (2016– 2021). Accordingly, the armed forces may opt once again for aloofness and self-marginalization in international affairs, in the attempt of erecting a barrier against foreign interferences as they focus on the eradication of domestic dissent.

About the author:
Andrea Passeri is Adjunct Professor in International Relations of East Asia at the Department of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Bologna (Italy) and Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS) of the National University of Malaysia (UKM). His scholarly research focuses on the foreign policies and alignment strategies of Southeast Asian countries, and has appeared on The Pacific Review, the Journal of Northeast Asian History, the Korean Journal of Defence Analysis, and the Italian Review of Geopolitics, among others. Dr. Passeri’s op-eds have been published in the East West Center’s Asia-Pacific Bulletin, the Myanmar Times, and the International Affairs Institute’s (IAI)commentaries. He earned his PhD in History and International Relations of East Asia from the University of Cagliari (Italy) and his MA cum laude in International Relations from the University of Bologna.

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