On 1 August 2023, a huge statue of Buddha was unveiled in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw (Radio Free Asia, 1 August 2023). Although the initial plans for the statue predate the beginning of the civil war, the unveiling ceremony was organized by the military regime (AP News, 21 July 2023).
World Watch Research analyst Thomas Muller explains: “Almost 25 meters high and occupying a 92-hectare park, Myanmar’s generals are claiming that this is the largest ‘sitting Buddha’ statue in the world. While such a claim is hard to verify, given the large number of Buddha statues around the world, it is definitely a 5,000 ton statement promoting Buddhist dominance. It seems doubtful, however, whether this gesture will calm the millions of Buddhist citizens directly affected by military attacks elsewhere in the country.”
Thomas Muller continues: “Possibly more important is China’s growing concern about the lawless zones thriving along the Myanmar-Thai border. These are affecting hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens (and many others throughout Southeast Asia and beyond) through online gambling and all kinds of other scams (USIP, 11 July 2023). While more and more dubious online groups appear on WeChat, hundreds of Chinese citizens are looking for trafficked relatives (lured into the zones under false promises and then forced to participate in online scams and the like) and complain about the ‘powerlessness’ of the Chinese authorities. While it is unlikely that the Chinese government would abandon Myanmar’s military regime anytime soon, it is very possible that it will put considerably more pressure on the regime to rein these lawless zones in. These are located in ethnic minority regions (the most infamous, Shwe Kokko, is in Kayin state, which according to the official census from 2014 has a Christian minority of 9.5%). So additional pressure from the Chinese government may also result in even more pressure being put on Myanmar’s ethnic and religious minorities.”
Thomas Muller adds: “Meanwhile, the military rulers have extended the state of emergency a further six months until end of January 2024 and postponed the long-promised elections (Channel News Asia, 31 July 2023). This postponement comes as no surprise seeing that the current regime controls less than 50% of the country’s territory.”