New Zealand suspends political, military contact with Myanmar after coup

New Zealand will end political and military contact with Myanmar after a military coup which deposed its democratically elected government.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, making the announcement after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, said all “high-level” political contact would be ended, and New Zealand's aid programme “should not” be delivered in conjunction with, or benefit, the military.

A travel ban on Myanmar's military leaders would be formalised later in the week. It appeared that while sanctions remain on the table, such a measure was not considered effective.

The Myanmar community was out in force to hear speakers like Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta denounce the actions of the military in the country, after it seized power last week.
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff
The Myanmar community was out in force to hear speakers like Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta denounce the actions of the military in the country, after it seized power last week.

Hundreds of Myanmar demonstrators and their New Zealand supporters banged pots and pans on Parliament’s forecourt on Tuesday evening, protesting the military coup as their families are in streets of Myanmar’s cities.

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Christalin Thangpawl​, chairwomen of the New Zealand Myanmar Ethnics Council, told the crowd that New Zealand would offer more than a "rigid” statement, and needed to go to the United Nations to ensure protesters were not shot and killed by the Myanmar military.

“We are deeply concerned and fearful for our family at home. We will do anything we can to help our family, friends and loved ones in Myanmar. Please help support us and our families.”

There were cries of support when Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, who met the protest along with a raft of parliamentarians, said New Zealand did not recognise a government led by a military which had launched “yet another coup”.

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta standing next to Christalin Thangpawl at a protest against the Myanmar military’s coup on Parliament’s forecourt on Tuesday.
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta standing next to Christalin Thangpawl at a protest against the Myanmar military’s coup on Parliament’s forecourt on Tuesday.

Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, seized control of the country last week, just hours before the country’s second democratically elected parliament was due to convene. The Southeast Asian country had been on a path to democratisation in recent years, after decades of harsh rule by a military junta.

Aung San Suu Kyi​, the Nobel peace prize-winning leader of the country, was among National League for Democracy (NLD) politicians and democracy activists arrested in a raft of early morning raids. Since, there have been major peaceful protests in the country, Internet blackouts, and threats of a crackdown from the military.

Ardern, speaking earlier, said the Government's response represented “important, fundamental changes” to the relationship between New Zealand and Myanmar, and were “right up there” among the strongest actions that could be taken.

A protester bangs a spoon on a metal dish in protest of the military coup in Myanmar. Major demonstrations in the country have involved citizens banging pots and pans en masse.
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff
A protester bangs a spoon on a metal dish in protest of the military coup in Myanmar. Major demonstrations in the country have involved citizens banging pots and pans en masse.

"Every New Zealander would be devastated to see, after years of working so hard to build a democracy in Myanmar, to see what we've seen in recent days unfold led by the military. Our strong message is, we will do what we can from here in New Zealand.”

Ardern said New Zealand would maintain its aid programme – which mostly consists of agricultural, educational, and renewable energy spending – as none was currently connected to the military.

"This will mean being very cautious about the way that we enter into aid programmes in Myanmar from henceforth.”

Tin Zaw Moe, the organiser of an earlier protest in Wellington on Tuesday against Myanmar’s military coup gets the crowd chanting outside of Parliament on Tuesday midday. A second protest followed in that evening.
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff
Tin Zaw Moe, the organiser of an earlier protest in Wellington on Tuesday against Myanmar’s military coup gets the crowd chanting outside of Parliament on Tuesday midday. A second protest followed in that evening.

New Zealand’s ambassador, Steve Marshall, and his Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) staff were plucked out of the country as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. Despite cutting political ties, an ambassador may return.

"It's not an insignificant aid programme in Myanmar, $42 million from 2018 through to 2021. And so you would just want to make sure that that was managed in an appropriate way by MFAT staff," Ardern said.

Hours after a protest descended on Parliament, New Zealand announced it would cut off political ties to Myanmar.
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff
Hours after a protest descended on Parliament, New Zealand announced it would cut off political ties to Myanmar.

While it might appear that New Zealand's position on Myanmar was of little relevance, Ardern said she recalled Suu Kyi speaking favourably of New Zealand’s representatives in the country.

“They were well regarded and well respected, and I think had played a really constructive role with a critical time for Myanmar in their transition.”

Ardern indicated that sanctions – which have not been ruled out by Mahuta – would have little effect. She said New Zealand’s trade with Myanmar was “often food based”, and therefore wouldn’t likely be captured by sanctions against the company.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand will end “high-level” political ties with Myanmar.
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand will end “high-level” political ties with Myanmar.