By B. Raman
The elected MPs belonging to Aung San Suu Kyi’s NationaL League for Democracy (NLD) took their seats as newly elected members of the lower House of the Myanmar Parliament when its session began at Naypyidaw on July 4,2012. Suu Kyi, who was also to take the oath the same day, could not do so due to reported exhaustion after her 18-day, five-nation tour of Europe which ended on June 29. She is expected to get going later this week.
One saw a self-confident, but cautious Suu Kyi during her triumphant tour of Europe during which she accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace at a function at Oslo and was honoured wherever she went. She was given the honours due to a head of State. The Western Governments and people made no secret of their admiration for her.
At the same time, one could discern a feeling of anxiety —particularly in London and Paris—- that the lionisation of Suu Kyi by the Western world could create difficulties for her in her relations with the Government and the Army in Myanmar. Suspicion of Western motives in backing her is believed to be high in the Myanmar Army.
That was why during her visit to the UK and France, the local Governments announced their intention to invite Myanmar President Thein Sein to pay an official visit to their countries. Suu Kyi too lauded their plans to do so and stressed the importance of their interacting not only with her and her party but also with the Government over which the Army still has a strong influence.
Some of the key themes of her speeches were the need to strengthen national reconciliation in Myanmar, her faith in the policies and good intentions of Thein Sein, her cautious optimism that the policy of reforms initiated by Thein Sein will continue though she was hesitant to say that the reforms are irreversible. For nearly 50 years, the Army has been the strongest and most assertive segment of the society and administration in Myanmar. Keeping this in view, it would be premature and unwise to talk of the irreversibility of reforms.
She gave the impression of being confident, though, that Thein Sein is firmly in the saddle and will be able to keep ahead with his policy of reforms. Significantly, shortly after her return, there was speculation in Myanmar that four of the hardliners in the Cabinet, known as supporters of hardliner Than Shwe, the predecessor of Thein Sein, were being eased out. The resignation of one of these four, Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo, has already been announced on July 4.
Suu Kyi’s admiration for the Western world and her hopes and expectations that the Western investors would play a more important role in the economic development of Myanmar were repeatedly echoed in her speeches and comments during her tour of Europe. She stressed the importance of human rights and democracy friendly foreign investments.
She did not clarify, though, whether she considered the foreign investments from China, the largest foreign investor in Myanmar till now, to be human rights and democracy friendly and, if not, whether she would welcome Chinese investments in future.
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It was significant that during her stay in London she received on June 19 at her place of stay His Holiness the Dalai Lama who wanted to wish her on her 67th birthday. His Holiness was on a separate visit to London to promote Buddhist teachings and he availed of her stay to call on her and greet her. The fact that she readily agreed to receive him without worrying about any adverse reactions from her Government and from Beijing indicated her readiness to take an independent stand without worrying about adverse reactions from Beijing.
China will have reasons to be concerned over her interactions with His Holiness and over her repeated emphasis on human rights and democracy friendly foreign investment, but it has not openly articulated its concerns.
Beijing, which is a major investor in the oil and gas sector in Myanmar, particularly in the Rakhine State, would not have failed to note with concern the expression of interest, particularly in Paris, in the possible flow of Western investment in the oil and gas sector. If this materialises, this could be to the detriment of both China and India, which have been assisting the Myanmar Government in this field.
In response to questions from Western journalists regarding the scope for increased investment flows as a result of the opening-up of Myanmar, U Soe Thane, the Myanmar Industry Minister, who attended the Nobel Peace Prize function at Oslo, said: “ A rush is OK, but not a gold rush.”
It is obvious that Western business houses, particularly in the oil and gas sector, are expecting a gold rush as a result of their consistent backing for the democracy movement of Suu Kyi.
Will their expectations materialise? Will China and the pro-Beijing officers in the Myanmar Army watch quietly as the Western business houses try hard to be the main beneficiaries of the rise of Suu Kyi in Myanmar’s future politics? These are issues that need to be closely monitored.