The world’s bad guys are winning. Is anyone going to stand up to them?

Here I am hosting Simon Tisdall’s article in the Observer Sunday 7th February 2021

The world’s bad guys are winning. Is anyone going to stand up to them?

From the coup in Myanmar to the autocratic regimes in China and Russia, western values are under increasing threat

Blame Joe Biden for not stepping in more quickly, or Donald Trump for encouraging authoritarian rulers. Blame Barack Obama for lifting sanctions. Easier still, blame China for propping up a military junta and putting profit before people.

The International Court of Justice warned of ongoing genocide, but nobody was saved. UN security council members argued endlessly about what to do. The finger of blame also points at Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel heroine turned sellout.

Yet while recriminations over last week’s coup in Myanmar may be inevitable, they are beside the point. The issue now is what is the international community going to do about it? The quick answer, based on recent precedents, is not a lot.

This dilemma not only applies to Myanmar. Across the world, to put it crudely, the bad guys are winning. The coup is another landmark in what David Miliband, a former UK foreign secretary, calls the “age of impunity”.

It’s true the US has set an unusually bad example. In November Aung San Suu Kyi won a clear election victory. Myanmar’s army chief, Min Aung Hlaing, alleged fraud. Peddling a lie and ignoring the constitution, he plotted to overturn the vote by force.

Sound familiar? In Washington on Monday, Trump faces trial for a similar, albeit failed, insurrection. Yet such a reckoning is a democratic rarity. Public protests are growing in Myanmar. So is repression. Who will bring Min Aung Hlaing to justice?

It’s also true China is playing a cynical game. It denies backing the coup, which is plausible. Its huge investments require stability, not a return to pre-2011 pro-democracy agitation. Yet China will be the winner if the west reverts to punitive sanctions. This outcome would render the generals triply damned: hated at home, ostracised abroad, and more dependent than ever on Xi Jinping.

The coup is seen by some as the first big test of Biden’s commitment to global democracy. Analyst Azeem Ibrahim claims a US-China deal is possible.

“The US could recognise Beijing’s commercial interests … in exchange for China’s support for forcing Myanmar into humanely resolving the Rohingya crisis and entrenching the power of the [pro-Beijing] democratic forces in the country,” he suggested.

This scenario was optimistic, Ibrahim conceded. China pays only lip service to democracy – witness its crackdown in Hong Kong. It obstructed efforts to punish the generals for genocidal attacks on Rohingya Muslims in 2016-17 which killed thousands and forced three-quarters of a million to flee to Bangladesh.

Xi, too, stands accused of genocide – in Xinjiang – yet appears untouchable.

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