Burma – an ant between elephants – is about to change, right!?

Oh yes it seems like it. But that’s just a very slow beginning of what has to happen over the next years. President Thein Sein initiated some reforms and showed good will towards the oppositional party and its icon Aung San Suu Kyi.Talks were held with the opposition and were also offered to leaders of ethnic minorities; political prisoners were released; an economic/financial reform is under way and the media is about to become more open. Sounds like Burma is on a high-speed track towards becoming an open democratic society but there are many things going on in the background that dampen the hopes and aspirations. Fighting with ethnic minorities is still going on, the main oppositional figures are still kept behind bars and without a functioning IT infrastructure it is no real progress unblocking the Internet and online media.

But the western countries are watching the situation and offer their cooperation. Secretary Clinton is the first secretary of state to visit the country in over half a century, which could be the beginning of less economic sanctions (by the US, EU, IMF/WB) and an improved economic performance that could as a result lift many people out of their devastating situation. China is not too happy with the situation, as it is afraid of losing the more or less tight connection with the junta, ah civil government. Still, as you can read in some of the articles, the people of Burma are becoming more hopeful and optimistic about the future of their country and lives and that is definitely a good start.

“Years of diplomatic and economic isolation have left Myanmar under the influence of a giant northern neighbour with no scruples about doing business in the resource-rich country. Some are now keen to lessen the country’s dependence on China. They hope that after Ms Clinton’s visit, Western sanctions will be eased and investment will start to flow. America, for its part, may hope to detach Myanmar from China’s orbit as part of Mr Obama’s new “pivot” towards Asia. Some Burmese may wish that their country will not become a new cockpit of superpower rivalry.”

http://www.economist.com/node/21540320

“Association of Southeast Asian Nation leaders recently selected Burma to chair the organization in 2014. But has Burma truly done enough to be awarded such an honor, considering its very recent past?”

http://the-diplomat.com/asean-beat/2011/11/26/slow-down-with-burma/

What is at stake in Burma?

http://blogs.cfr.org/asia/2011/11/21/watching-before-moving-further-on-burma/

“Recent events suggest one possible explanation: Burma’s rulers have grown wary of China’s almost smothering embrace – a result of the country’s international isolation. Indeed, public protests against China’s commercial exploitation of Burma’s natural resources became so widespread that the government called a halt to construction by Chinese investors on the huge and environmentally damaging Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River.”

http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/koike24/English

Interesting interviews with Aung San Suu Kyi (Video) and Zarganar, a famous comedian and recently released political prisoner (Video)

http://www.cfr.org/burmamyanmar/conversation-aung-san-suu-kyi-video/p26617

“It is important that we all agree to follow Aung San Suu Kyi. She will tell us what to do and we will follow.” (Zarganar)

http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2011/11/political-prisoners-myanmar?fsrc=rss

The rare American elephant showed up – the Clinton visit

http://blogs.cfr.org/asia/2011/11/29/judging-hillary-clinton’s-visit-to-burma/

http://blogs.wsj.com/searealtime/2011/11/30/clamor-for-clinton-reveals-desire-for-reform/?mod=WSJBlog

“It has taken half a century for Myanmar to embark on this important new path, for at that time the country was thought to become the wealthiest and most developed in Southeast Asia. Instead, after nearly five decades of consecutive military rule, it has become the poorest.”

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/MK24Ae01.html

“It is still far too early to credit Burma with a turnaround, but there are increasing signs that meaningful reforms may be possible.”

http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/267293/urging-burma-to-change

Still, the Chinese elephant is not hiding in the woods!

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/world/asia/myanmar-a-welcome-from-china.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss

“U.S. officials have made clear they don’t intend to grant Myanmar’s main wish – an easing of sanctions – just yet, despite a series of recent reforms in the country that have drawn measured praise from the West. All that means Ms. Clinton may have to do some creative planning if she plans to top the Buddha tooth.”

http://blogs.wsj.com/searealtime/2011/11/24/china-tests-buddha-tooth-diplomacy-in-myanmar/?mod=WSJBlog

Nixon prospered in China because the Chinese had grown to loathe their former Soviet allies. In Burma, no such opening exists for Clinton. As Xi will have argued, Burma’s strategic interests still rest with China. And if Thein Sein isn’t convinced of that, then Min Aung Hlaing almost certainly is.” (Note: Min Aung Hlaing is the commander-in-chief of the Burmese armed forces; he ordered his infantry division in 2009 to kill, rape, beat up and steal from beat up, steal from Kokang Chinese in the Northeastern Shan State – read more on this under the atimes.com link below the next paragraph)

http://the-diplomat.com/flashpoints-blog/2011/11/30/china’s-burma-fightback/

“Chinese economic penetration of Myanmar began in the early 1980s and was facilitated, but not caused, by Western isolation of the country after the military’s brutal suppression of a nationwide pro-democracy uprising in 1988. But it should have been clear to observers that it was an uneasy relationship from the beginning. The recent turnaround, epitomized by the stoppage of the Myitsone dam, was not as assumed by many driven by the 2010 elections and the shift towards a nominally democratic government made up mainly of former military officers.”

“On a visit to Canberra in November, US President Barack Obama stated that ‘with my visit to the region, I am making it clear that the United States is stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific region’. The United States is a Pacific power, Obama said, and “we are here to stay”. He added: ‘The notion that we fear China is mistaken. The notion that we are looking to exclude China is mistaken.’”

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/MK29Ae01.html

But what about the Indian elephant?

“India’s interests in Myanmar are obvious. Apart from serving as a link to lucrative markets and trading partners in Southeast Asia, New Delhi wants to ensure that northeastern insurgents are deprived of sanctuaries and supply lines through its eastern neighbor – and to keep Chinese influence there at bay. India’s rapidly expanding economy also needs energy, and New Delhi has shown strong interest in importing more oil and gas from Myanmar.”

“Another ‘Great Game’ involving India, China and the US is now playing out in Asia on the eastern fringes of the Indian subcontinent. But before the regional balance of power tilts away from China and towards India, the potholes on the road to Moreh will have to be smoothed out. Only then can China’s grip on Myanmar be challenged and India able to link up more directly and strategically with Southeast Asia.”

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/MK30Ae01.html

People from the countryside talk about their feelings about the ongoing “change”…

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/01/world/asia/in-myanmar-countryside-reforms-bring-little-relief.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss

And this is what is going on in the background…

“But away from the international spotlight, across large swaths of the country, its army continues to torture and kill civilians, gang rape women and turn thousands of villagers into refugees in campaigns to stamp out the world’s longest running insurgencies, human rights groups say.”

http://asiancorrespondent.com/70848/myanmar-minorities-suffer-abuses-despite-reforms/

”Ethnic people have been treated like the enemy of the state for decades, but in Burma everyone has been denied their basic rights. People can’t freely move without reporting their travels, everyone is being watched. People are afraid all the time. The country has been run down – transport, roads, health, agriculture, living standards and basic wages are among the worst in the world.”

http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/investigation/268092/brutal-reality-behind-junta-benign-face

“But if the changes underway in Myanmar continue, they could keep putting other Asian leaders in a tricky spot. For example, Myanmar recently lifted blocks on a number of international websites, including YouTube, giving Web surfers access to more information online than in some other Asian countries. Meanwhile, rules such as Thailand’s famous lèse majesté law that forbids comments considered offensive to the monarchy could draw more criticism for being out-of-date if the reform march in Myanmar continues.”

http://blogs.wsj.com/searealtime/2011/11/29/myanmar-dissidents-new-model-for-freedom/?mod=WSJBlog

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