Bargaining for Legitimacy: Vietnam’s Involvement in the Myanmar Junta’s Struggle for Recognition

Bargaining for Legitimacy: Vietnam’s Involvement in the Myanmar Junta’s Struggle for Recognition

On Dec. 5, 2023, Justice for Myanmar (JFM) reported that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) would not attend nor provide any support for the upcoming 26th Ministerial Conference of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) program that will be held on Dec. 15 in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.

Despite ADB’s withdrawal from the event, the conference will continue, and several representatives from other GMS member-states will attend. According to JFM, some notable attendees include China’s Finance Minister Lan Fo’an, Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sok Chenda Sophea, Lao’s Planning and Investment Minister Khamjane Vongphosy, Vietnam’s Planning and Investment Minister Nguyen Chi Dung, and Thailand’s Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat. 

After more than two years since the Myanmar military’s takeover of the national government, the junta struggles to maintain its hold on the country. Faced with economic sanctions, civil disobedience, and rebellion, it fights a battle on two fronts. On one front, the junta is trying to assert its legitimacy globally, even in the face of widespread condemnation from the international community. The other front is currently being fought on the country’s own soil as the junta continues to point its guns at the citizens of Myanmar who are resisting military rule. 

Current Events and Developments

After forcibly taking power from the civilian government and sentencing several key politicians to imprisonment in February 2021, the Myanmar junta was quick to strengthen its hold on the country. However, this violent takeover has resulted in unintended negative effects two years later. 

Due to international pressure, several foreign companies have ceased operations in Myanmar, leading the country into an economic freefall. Likewise, Professor Miemie Byrd, from the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, states that the junta’s incompetence and mismanagement have also led to a devaluation of the local currency, economic contraction, and a lack of foreign investors willing to put money into the country. All these, compounded with several sanctions imposed on Myanmar, have resulted in economic misery among the general populace and a rise in unemployment. 

Various insurgent groups and rebellions have also emerged after the military takeover of the Myanmar government, leading to constant clashes between the junta and dissident forces. To combat the insurgency, the military has resorted to committing various atrocities and war crimes. Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that the Myanmar military has indiscriminately used artillery and airstrikes, opened fire on hospitals and schools, and attacked civilians in their operations.

The junta’s actions have led to the destruction of up to 30,000 civilian infrastructures, the deaths of at least 382 children, and 111 cases of extrajudicial killings, among others. The constant fighting has also led to the displacement of nearly 1 million people who are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. 

Civic space in Myanmar has also deteriorated to such a point that social media endorsements, such as liking or sharing content from the enemies of the junta, could result in imprisonment of up to 10 years, according to HRW.

The human rights advocate also states that the junta has exercised vast control over the judicial system by “arbitrarily changing laws, appointing junta-aligned judges, and arresting lawyers for defending junta opponents.” Likewise, Al Jazeera reports that the regime implemented a new election law prohibiting political parties and candidates connected to individuals and organizations “designated as committing terror acts” or seen as “unlawful” from running for public office.

The death penalty was also reinstated in the country after more than 30 years since its last application. In July 2022, the junta executed four individuals, Phyo Zeya Thaw, Kyaw Min Yu, Hla Myo Aung, and Aung Thura Zaw, after closed-door trials. Phyo and Kyaw were sentenced to death for allegedly violating Myanmar’s Counterterrorism Law of 2014, while Hla and Aung were executed for their alleged involvement in the killing of a military informant. Several other people currently remain on death row. 

These issues and several more reached a peak at the end of 2022 when the United Nations adopted Resolution 2669 calling for an “immediate end to all forms of violence in Myanmar” as well as “the de-escalation of tensions and the release of all prisoners.” All 15 members of the UN Security Council voted on this matter, with 12 voting in favor of the resolution. The remaining 3, China, Russia, and India, abstained. 

Bargaining for Legitimacy

All the ongoing social, economic, and political issues in Myanmar indicate that the junta-led government is slowly steering the country towards self-destruction. Increasing economic sanctions, growing international pressure, and internal strife should indicate the inevitable fall of the military-led regime. However, the junta is kept afloat by countries, organizations, and financial institutions that benefit from the situation in Myanmar or who unwittingly provide aid to the junta itself. 

In January 2023, JFM released a report titled DEVELOPING A DICTATORSHIP that describes how several foreign governments, institutions, and organizations support the military junta. The report states that these parties provide political and financial support through “diplomatic relations, development initiatives, technical cooperation and property relations, among others,” often in exchange for something else. 

JFM states further that out of the 64 foreign entities mentioned in the report, 22 are foreign governments; the other members of the GMS – Cambodia, the People's Republic of China, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam – are also implicated in the document. Additionally, the report states that JFM reached out to ADB regarding a prior GMS online summit held in September 2021. A representative of the ADB stated that they did not fund the summit and that their role in the GMS Program was that of a “secretariat and advisor on technical matters.” 

By their refusal to cut off Myanmar and their continued participation in the upcoming conference, the five other members of the GMS give recognition and legitimacy to the current military regime in Myanmar. By providing a platform, the GMS gives the junta a space to project a façade of normalcy and international acceptance despite the widespread global condemnation of their actions. In exchange, the junta provides these states with something of value. 

Looking at Vietnam’s relationship with Myanmar, the former continues to engage with the ruling junta as if it were a legitimate government despite the junta being classified as a terrorist organization under Myanmar’s own counter-terrorism law, according to JFM. The report also provides several examples of Vietnam legitimizing the junta. For instance, during a military parade in Naypyidaw on March 27, 2021, Vietnam sent military attaches to attend the proceedings. 

Likewise, the junta was allowed to participate in the ITU Digital World 2021 online conference. This event was organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Vietnamese Ministry of Information and Communications. During this event, JFM stated that Admiral Tin Aung San, the current deputy prime minister of Myanmar under the ruling junta, was allowed to speak on behalf of the country. 

In exchange for its support, Vietnam continues to indulge in economic and military connections with Myanmar, mainly due to the relationship between Viettel, which has close ties to the Vietnam Ministry of Defense, and Mytel, a telecommunications company in Myanmar. Viettel is the 4th largest stakeholder in Mytel and takes a significant chunk of profits due to the mechanisms of proxy shareholders and shell companies. 

The sad reality is that many other countries, and not just Vietnam, benefit from Myanmar’s military rule. As long as the junta continues to garner any semblance of international support from the GMS or any other foreign nation, institution, or organization, the people of Myanmar will continue to suffer as their country continues to spiral downward towards collapse. The full cessation of any form of support of the junta is the first step towards ending Myanmar's military rule. As such, international pressure should not solely focus on Myanmar but should also target other nations, such as Vietnam, whose actions and support provide legitimacy and recognition to the junta. 


  2. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. (2023, December 1). Myanmar: Intensification of clashes Flash update #8 (as of December 1, 2023). ReliefWeb. 
  3. Reuters. (2021, February 8). Timeline: The week since Myanmar’s coup. 
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  13. Justice For Myanmar. (2023, January 25). Developing a dictatorship. 
  14. Reed, A. (2021, February 2). Vietnam-Myanmar, a Tale of Two Systems: The takeover of telecommunications by authoritarian governments and the military. The Vietnamese Magazine. 

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