By Kanbawza Win
Burma was the first country outside the Communist bloc to recognise the People’s Republic of China in its creation on 1st Oct, 1949 and since then the Burmese Generals have very much admired Chairman Mao, especially his theory that power comes out of the barrel of a gun and they have practiced this theory for more than half a century starting from March 2, 1962.
After more than fifty years of gross human rights violation, ethnic cleansing, forced labour, forced relocation, child soldiers implemented by brutal dictatorship and taking the country from the rice bowl to the rice hole of Asia these narco Generals, heads of the rapist Tatmadaw came to realise that they are about to lose their independence. The country is clearly heading to become 6th autonomous region of China1 as they had to depend solely on the magnanimity of China from arms, ammunition and economic supplies to diplomatic support at the UN. They have witnessed the treatment of the Chinese Communists to the Tibetan of how the Tibetan language and Buddhism were suppressed systematically and that Mandalay the second capital of Burma has been label as 2nd Beijing as the country has been being flooded by more than 5 million Chinese, both legal and illegal Chinese immigrants and that even the local people, especially the ward and township elders are learning Chinese language and replacing the lingua franca Burmese language.2
Than Shwe the evil genius and the supremo realise that the only way to wriggle out of the Chinese orbit is to be friend with the United States of America, the arsenal of democracy and to be friends with US it must change to democracy at least in some form of semblance. So he gracefully retired and controlled it from behind and chose able lieutenant Thein Sein in his place and gave him his blessings to change.
The Myanmar leaders both the Generals and the pro democracy groups led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi realising that their policy of a great nation using brute chauvinism and ethnic cleansing over the non Myanmar for half a century is not working in their favour but rather having an adverse effect of pushing them to a pariah state. So they have taken a leave out of the dictum and strategy of Deng Xiaoping’s Theory – of “using economics to outflank politics”3 At last they have painfully discovered that the dual colonial policy of the Myanmar over the Non Myanmar, the ethnic nationalities instead reaching their goal has led the ethnic nationalities to be more united and more resistant. Now that the country has opened up to market reforms is using skillfully the economic development projects in the ethnic nationalities dominated area to marginalize the opposition. The government have deliberately used the market system as an aid to political cooperation – locally through cross-border groupings that bring together capital, labor and natural resources from neighboring states in what are now known as a new Burma which goes further than any previous economic venture.
Up to this day the ethnic nationalities rights have not been effectively guaranteed in the new political setting. The fallacies of the electoral system means that the Myanmar majority parties are likely to remain dominant in national politics after the 2015 general election and the army commanders will continue to wield personal power in the states and regions.
The diversity of international groups including the US making wrong approaches could complicate rather than help events in the field. The agendas and relationships of international agencies are not always clear, even though there the number of international actors working in regional investments in the non Myanmar area is growing. In recent months, however, the pace of economic pressure has accelerated and many ethnic communities fear that they will be bypassed in local planning and progress as the new political system is not yet fully representative or functioning.
The ethnic borderlands are strategically located in the path of many new investment projects. There are concerns that the country and people could suffer the “resource curse” that undermined resource development and the equitable sharing of wealth. e.g. the oil and gas pipelines to China, the Kaledan Gateway project with India and the Dawei Development project with Thailand. But this is only the beginning: China wants to open up the country to the sub-Asian region via a north-south corridor, while Japan is interested in another from east to west. Special economic zones, too, are being mooted that are expected to lead to more land expropriation and this is deepening concerns about the future of the many displaced persons, refugees and migrant workers in the ethnic national borderlands. Huge economic and humanitarian challenges remain. This clearly proves that the majority Myanmar led by the Tatmadaw will be the only one that profited with the help of international companies.
Burma is now at a sensitive stage in its political transition. Under the Thein Sein administration there is are encouraging prospects for the future, however, reform is still at a very early stage and there should be no underestimation of the difficult challenges that lie ahead. After decades of division, intensive efforts are still required to bring about an inclusive and lasting peace.
There is still in need of electoral rules, census, land tenure rights, education, investment and economic reform which are all necessary to guarantee the rights of all peoples. Independent institutions must also strive to grow in an environment where power and decision-making are often in the hands of small elites. And, as events move quickly, it is vital that all parts of the country are included, but the Thein Sein government with the tactic approval of NLD has deliberately neglected it in ethnic dominated areas.
It is rather dangerous that the current optimistic mood in Burma and within the international community is obscuring the fact that the existing hurdles have the potential to seriously obstruct the on-going democratisation process. The absence of available democratisation theories, which could be applied to Burma’s current political climate, also plays a part in the misperception of the situation. Essential factors that contribute to sustainable democratic reforms, such as strong opposition groups, an expanding middle class or the development of free media, are still missing. It looks more like a rearrangement or a redistribution of power among top elites, including Daw Suu Kyi, without any real participation of the middle class. Human rights considerations need to shape the process of economic growth, legislative reform and institutional change, while also guiding responses to ongoing serious human rights situations, including in Rakhine and Kachin States. 4 On the other hand the Junta have carefully studied China, North Korea, and Indonesia, where the military possesses a great deal of political power and is trying to imitate them in their endeavour hoping that that an open markets, interregional trade and economic growth would papered over historical grievances, irredentist claims, and quarrels over geopolitical resources.
Long-term agreements with Myanmar -majority parties (including the NLD) and the non Myanmar ethnic nationalities is a necessity if peace and prosperity were to be restored, for Burma’s political transition and economic reconstruction are deeply entwined, and so the ruling clique, the country’s elites and the international community must embrace both for the dramatic reforms underway to succeed.5
In an effort to create a rapidly growing economy and catch up to its neighbours, the government wants to do away with the restrictions and privileges of the old economic order, which benefited the military, party elite and crony businessmen, said a summary of the report’s findings by ICG.“If the reforms are done well, many across the country stand to benefit, but those who profited most from the old regime’s restrictions and privileges will lose access to windfall profits and guaranteed monopolies,” said Jim Della-Giacoma, the group’s South East Asia project director. “The crony businessmen, military and party machine will still do well but will need to play by new rules, meet domestic and foreign competition and even pay taxes.”
Very lately Burma’s Parliament has approved a new foreign direct investment (FDI) bill that removes limits on how much a foreigner can invest in joint ventures with local partners. The new legislation incorporates most of the recommendations made by President Thein Sein allows foreign companies to become majority shareholders in joint-venture projects.“We need foreign investment as our country is in need of more employment for our people,” said Lower House MP Thein Nyunt from the opposition New National Democracy Party, expressing support for the president’s policies.6 This clearly depicts that the regime is catching two birds with a stone. It remove the old regime cronies and encompass the economic development to overcome the ethnic resistance. The government’s limited experience and technical capacity hinder the speed and effectiveness with which sweeping new policies can be implemented. This deficit may be particularly telling when policies require swift adjustment. It must be understood that economic reform cannot be achieved without the promise of political stability.
This clearly points out that the ethnic leaders cannot be marginalized or buy of the more economically inclined ones as in the Karen Hence all the ethnic leaders must be very careful with the economic approaches. Kachin is but one of the most advanced ethnic groups that sees the writings on the wall and continue to fight until the political conditions are met. In case of the Shan, there is no war or peace as the economic incentive is low. The Mons are lying low as most of the mines are already in the government’s hands and the only bait is Dawe project. The Karens are hopelessly divided. 7The Karenni and the Chins are very much marginalized.
If the absence of clarity among Burma’s domestic ethno-nationalists is an issue, pro-market external players are crystal clear about their Burma priorities. In the eyes of venture capitalists and corporate investors in London, Paris, Zurich, New York, Tokyo, Seoul and so on, or development agencies such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), EU and EU-based development agencies, Burma’s war zones have come to be seen as strategic yet virgin lands waiting to be penetrated by international business interests. Meanwhile, ASEAN is determined to transform itself from the region’s Cold War-era, anti- Communist China bloc to a pro-market competitor of the emerging state-run capitalist system of China. As the largest mainland Southeast Asian land bridge between South and Southeast Asia, Burma is indispensible for ASEAN as it pursues its grand commercial design.8 These are beyond our control but the ethnic leaders must see this writings on the wall in order to lead its own people to the right directions.
Every educated Burmese have to understand that the commercial stakes are too high for these external players to allow Burma’s conflict-ridden communities such political luxuries as peace, ethnic reconciliation, basic human rights and some semblance of popular sovereignty to overshadow their decisions. For instance, over a quarter-century a projected $550 billion (according to the Asian Development Bank) would change hands in the ongoing scheme of the ASEAN alone, backed by an assemblage of Western institutions to create a single energy market across much of Southeast Asia. In the new single energy market electricity would be generated in a least-industrialised economy such as Burma’s and exported to the fast industrialising economies of China and Thailand. Imagine the windfall from the two dozen similar schemes currently under discussion.9 But ironically Burma’s town and cities are dark at night with not enough electricity.
Burma is seen as a strategic venue by outside powers, from Europe to Japan to the US. For outside powers, the country has always been a commercial backdoor to China, and India, for mainland Southeast Asian economies. The logic of and zeal for economic growth – and the resultant twofold needs for reliable flows of natural resources and energy and new consumer markets – has subsequently come to dictate the behaviour and priorities for virtually all national governments. So it is a common sense that the move to open up the country to international businesses has turned out to be the Burmese generals’ single most important decision, having since precipitated a major windfall in terms of commercial gains, strategic advantages, new international alliances and class-based politics at home – all to the near exclusive benefit of the military.
It must be remembered that the Tatmadaw remained cohesive and is successful in preventing inter-ethnic alliance between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi led NLD and ethnic movements. The 17 ethnic resistance groups agreed to ceasefire deals with the junta instead of bringing peace has led to lucrative personal business for the ethnic leaders. The generals have successfully primed Western interests in Burma’s economic and strategic potentials, including those of the country’s frontier areas. The global oil corporations have succeeded in filling its once-empty coffers with billions of dollars. Apparently, Naypyidaw has decided that it is in its best interest to invert its strategic logic in dealing with dissent and rebellion at home. From 1989 to 2012 it concentrated on crushing the pro democracy forces while neutralising the non- Myanmar ethnic armed movements with temporary ceasefire deals including the Kachin. Now, the generals have decided to zero in on any ethnic resistance groups, ceasefire or active, that refuse to accept peace on Naypyidaw’s terms. The ethnic leaders must be able to see this ploy. The regime’s strategic measures both before and after the election were designed to further weaken the non-Myanmar ethnic voices and fracture whatever inter- and intra-ethnic alliances that were emerging in the ethnic political scenes.
The military today is also replicating the old colonial pattern of divide and rule by preventing any attempts by the Myanmar politicians and dissidents to reach out to the non-Myanmar . Soon after her release from house arrest a year ago, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attempted to reignite popular interest in the multiethnic country’s need to build a federal system of government on the principal of ethnic equality. But as of now she is mute especially in Arakan and Kachin affairs as her latest interview with BBC revealed.10 This clearly indicates that she no longer cares for human rights and gross human rights violations and try to equate the ethnic’s legitimate rights with that of the Tatmadaw.
A cursory glance at the parliamentary statistics suffices that the Nargis Constitution allocated 25 percent of the seats in all legislatures at all levels, the regime’s proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP), holds 883 of 1154 parliamentary seats (76.5 percent); and have absolutely no chance of their concerns and aspirations being taken seriously, let alone honoured, by the military. Suu Kyi and the NLD – they have now gotten her, along with Burmese commercial and technocratic elites, on board Naypyidaw’s carefully choreographed market reforms.11
Meanwhile, anti-Chinese Western and ASEAN commercial and strategic interests are converging nicely in the generals’ favour. Both ASEAN and Washington deem it to be within their converging interests to ensure that the Burmese generals do not tilt any further towards Beijing’s strategic orbit. Washington’s invitation for Burma to join the annual Cobra Gold US-Thai military exercise is a reward for Burma’s rapid process of reform demonstrates just how desperate the US is to make trade inroads into a country that has been isolated from the international community for the past five decades. 12 For the first time since the ethnic rebellions broke out 60 years ago, the Burmese military today finds itself in the best position to make peace deals with the non-Myanmar resistance organisations. These will be offers the ethnic communities cannot refuse.
Hence it is very important the ethnic leaders should really around Ethnic National Council, be broad minded and calls upon the WA to join them. Then the existing United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) should be expanded to include the ethnic intelligentsia both inside the country and those of the Diaspora,13 and most importantly they need to invite those ethnic political parties inside the country and put up the United Front. Then they all must work as a cohesive TEAM.14 (Every ethnic leader is requested to read this foot note) Then and only then the Non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities would be in a position to talk with the Myanmar group led by the Generals and NLD, or otherwise will have to be contended with a second class citizen of Burma. One silver lining is that the advent of the NLD in parliament and support from democracy activists among the Burmese public is furthering hopes of a countrywide movement for peace and the ethnic leaders must drive for a new “2nd Panglong Conference ” to a new era of unity and progress.
Last but not the least is that we agree to the notion that there must be only one army to defend the country and that must be a Union army what in Burmese call Pyidoungsu Tat and not the Myanmar Tatmadaw as it is only for the Myanmar that mistreat the Non Myanmar, ethnic nationalities. There must be a State Police something like a former UMP which is Burmese call Pyinae Tat to counter balance the marauding Tatmadaw a sort of a check and balance and the Union army must be composed of equally proportionate of ethnic contingents for no ethnic nationalities can trust the Myanmar after 60 years of gross human rights violations. Only then it will formed the essence of a genuine Union of Burma and not the Union of Myanmar as our founder of modern Burma Bogyoke Aung San has shown.
The views expressed are the author’s own.
1. The five autonomous regions of China are Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi and Ningxia
2. Please refer to Kanbawza Wins Article Ni How Mar or Has President Bush Agree of Burma becoming an autonomous region of China published in Kao Wao News and Asian Tribune
3. From Mao Ze Dong’s Thinking to Deng Xiao Ping’s Theory 从毛泽东的思想到邓小平的理论=从毛泽东思想到邓小平理论.
4. Quintana report to the UNGA. 25-11-2012
5. Mizzima News The Politics of Economic Reformes Report 30-7-2012
6. Nyein Nyein Burma Parliament Pass Long Awaited FDI Bill 2-11-2012
7. First, the Karen Buddhist split from more enlighten Christians and now the economic minded leaders are making their presence felt exploiting the fact that e most of the Karen peoples wants peace
8. Zarni, Maung;An offer the minorities cannot refuse – Himal Magazine 2011 Dec. issue
10. BBC Burmese Broadcast 3-10-2012
11. Zarni, Maung;An offer the minorities cannot refuse – Himal Magazine 2011 Dec. issue
12. The Nation 23-10-2012
13. Currently it is only composed of armed organizations fighting the central government
14. TEAM. Target must have visionary, common goal, same concept and same page, wave length. Engagement must adhere to the rules, take responsibility and accountability. Adaptability willingness, openness and adjustable to changes. Mutuality There must be trust and respect to each other and recognize and harbour positive culture. It is very hard for one ethnic to understand the other as they have an entirely different background and options. But until and unless united it will be lost.