Free To Exploit Burma – OpEd


It seems that the pressure within the Burma had built up to such a degree that the Junta was forced to look for a way to open up, if they were to survive, while at the same time, the regional and international environments have changed and most of the neighbouring countries are concentrating more on accelerating their economic growth and building the region as a community.

The new generation in the army has become more progressive and less conservative. There seems to have been an agreement among the elite on the need to transform Burma before it is too late and be left totally powerless. Hence, the political reforms have begun.

Opening up the country economically is an initial step towards a strategic move that allows the regime to cling on to political power while promoting liberal economic policy to justify its ongoing reform process. No doubt Daw Aung Suu Kyi would have an immense influence on the West’s decision to lift sanctions against the regime but whether lifting of sanctions will do ‘good’ for the people or not is still to be seen. The one thing which is very sure is that the of lifting sanctions by the West will not improve the human rights situation as there is still a long way to go. The US and the West must be very careful that it does not place human rights on the back burner, as it seems to be doing in the case of Chen Guangcheng in Beijing.

The power distribution which is taking place in Burma nowadays is essentially among elite groups themselves, of which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a part. The so called national reconciliation therefore, in Burma is focus mainly on mending ties between the government and the NLD and did not incorporate various ethnic nationalities into the nation-building process without which there is little chance of success as it did not encompass the political involvement. Major military offensive using intensive air power in Kachin state is a classic example of the ongoing ethnic cleansing policy and so there is serious doubt whether the government’s policy be truly people-oriented even though the NLD is targeting the empowerment of the masses economically and seek further support from the public whereas the regime is to legitimise its grips on power.

Call me a pessimist because I foresee only a depressing picture. With the help of the “agents of capitalism” posing as scholars, diplomats, development aid experts, representatives of international agencies, investors, entrepreneurs etc, I foresee the land and people of Burma will be robbed and sold off under the lie of development and democratic change. The exploitation of man by man is now very much encouraged on all sides. Perhaps this policy will be just a little better than the Constructive Engagement Policy as practiced by ASEAN and the neighboring countries. The quasi military government now wearing Longyi (Burmese Sarong) and Gaungboung (headdress with a flag) is now being supported by many whose interests lie in having their way with the riches of Burma.  David Cameron, for example, took ten businessmen with him to Rangoon, only as tourists because Britain still had some economic sanctions in place.

Real citizen involvement is needed in creating a federal democratic Burma and not just token involvement by a few. Now Western governments are praising the regime to open new markets for their corporations. They talk only business the market and debt, not health, education, ecology or the common good of the people of Burma. The administrative authorities of the EU, Norway, Canada, the USA, and Australia have suspended most sanctions on Burma, rewarding the ‘quasi civilian government’ for its democratic changes. In fact the cut throat Australian government has never sanctioned investment in Burma as it send only human rights trainers, which is just like trying to straightened a dog’s tail with a pipe as according to the Burmese proverb..

Yet Australian, French, American, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Russian, Malaysian oil and gas companies currently operate there. Oil and gas exports are the Burmese leaders’ largest source of income, amounting to nearly US $3 Billion in the 2011-12 fiscal year. Despite this resource wealth, the oil and gas revenues over the last decades have been pocketed by a few corrupt military generals and the people of Burma benefit nothing.

Several hundred political prisoners remain in jail, repressive laws remain in place and the Constitution has not yet been amended. Although the government has negotiated some cease-fire agreements with some ethnic groups, no inclusive, nationwide political dialogue with the ethnic nationalities has yet been initiated. That is a pre requisite in a country where more than half a century of civil war has been waging.. A cease-fire is simply pressing the pause button. A major offensive was launching in Kachin state where the government boated of claiming killing more than 30 resistance fighters although it dared not release its own casualties according to the CMA (Controller of Military Accounts)figure is 3,278 is KIA, (Kill In Action) since the offensive started in Kachin state. What is needed is a peace process that stops the conflict for good. For now, what is occurring is primarily a change in atmosphere, not yet a change in system.

Of course the Thein Sein administration realized that the status quo was not sustainable and the country is crumbling by successive corrupt, incompetent and brutal military dictatorships. For ordinary people of Burma, each day is a struggle for survival while many of them could not afford a square meal. Discontent is simmering. Sanctions by the West bites much to the regime’s self-esteem and the regime unlike the previous Junta is not longer proud to be a pariah state. All indications point out that Burma was in danger of becoming one of the autonomous regions of China like Tibet. The Junta saw the clear writings of the Arab Spring.

What happened to Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi and other leaders in the Middle East and North Africa, gave them a serious thought. The supremo Than Shwe realized that he faced two choices: leave things as they are and, in a matter of time, Burma could have another popular uprising, on a larger scale than the 2007 Saffron Revolution, in which his own personal security, wealth and welfare, and that of his family, could be in jeopardy; or, he could approve a process of gradual change, in which at least he, his family and his assets are protected. He chose what to him was the lesser of two evils. This is the real cause of change in Burma. Perhaps Than Shwe wants to be to be remembered as the man who gave the nod to a democratic transition, rather than the man who butchered thousands of his people, monks and is guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Or maybe he may conjecture that by allowing Thein Sein to talk with Suu Kyi–something he would never do–bring her into the process and proceed on the path of reform, he can compensate for the horrific suffering he inflicted on his people, wipe the blood from his hands and change his karma. Whatever his motivations, Thein Sein could not have got this far without Than Shwe, and that means Burma’s spring is still fragile. If Than Shwe is still helping to pull some strings, could he call an end to the reforms if he feels they go too far and threaten his interests? as even now his right hand man Tin Aung Myint Oo the architect of the Kachin Offensive has resigned as a Vice President.

Many young bright Burmese who ran away following the deadly crackdowns in 1988 has not given any incentive to return to become a part of nation building even though several thousands have worked in different professions elsewhere could contribute to the nation nor there is, political stability, supported by democracy and sound economic policy, to encourage those educated to remain in the country rather than finding opportunities outside the country. But so far nothing has moved.

Currently it seems that the senior generals an older generation feel that their political space is shrinking too fast for a comfortable stay and the Burmese army obsession of a state within a state is very much alive and do what it like independent of the central government. Hence, the international community should wait for sometimes, iinstead of rushing in to Burma, one need to study the truth of how Western actions will affect current tensions, relationships and life for the Burmese people whether it is better or for worst for the regime is still too early to be trusted.

Kanbawza Win

Kanbawza Win is a political scientist based in Canada

2 thoughts on “Free To Exploit Burma – OpEd

  • May 11, 2012 at 5:47 am

    Good article ,your forecast is seemed 100 percent
    true, I fully support!

  • September 17, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    U Win,
    Your statement
    “With the help of the “agents of capitalism” posing as scholars, diplomats, development aid experts, representatives of international agencies, investors, entrepreneurs etc, I foresee the land and people of Burma will be robbed and sold off under the lie of development and democratic change.”
    is a true fact. Recently, an economic analysit from Australia has mentioned in his article that the sycophants, cronies and the foreign capitalist will get the best out of this economic changes. All the neighboring countries, the Western countries do not have (perhaps so so) any interest and sympathy for Burmans (I am using this term as all Pyi Daung Zu Taing Yin Thars ). Capitalsm is capitalism, see today China. They have no interest for building or revitalizing our nation. Our government and the future to be government need to realize it.
    And also, there have not been any incentive to the intellects and highly educated and experienced Burmans to return to become a part of nation building, in education, helath, building the economy, and everything.


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