Hello my dear readers,
I am back and 2012 is going to start with a Burmese edition. I have tried to follow the developments in the country during my trip but it is not always the easiest and sometimes I did not want to be online, I mean a vacation where you are online all the time is no vacation, right?! But still, in order to stay up to date I checked the headlines nearly everyday.
We are 25 days into 2012 now and many things have happened in Burma, and I like what I have seen so far and the things that are happening right now. But as with all news, take it with a pinch of salt.
These pictures in the following article are real though and they are beautiful. Burma and its people has been one of the most pleasant experiences I have had during my journeys and I hope that for their sake, the progress is also real.
The Burma Spring! ?
“These are real changes, not just words. And they can effect political activity inside the country, create a more open environment, and add momentum for further change. But they are just a start on a long road ahead and do not guarantee reform will succeed. There are still many challenges to be tackled, including the difficult tasks of healing deep ethnic divisions, overcoming the legacy of decades of armed conflict, taming the brutality of the armed forces, freeing all political prisoners, fully restoring basic civil liberties, and allowing a truly free media.”
President Thein Sein surprised the international society (or more likely gave in to its pressure) by releasing yet another 651 prisoners. This time though, the released one’s were high profile detainees as you can read from HRW and others: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/01/13/burma-political-prisoners-released; http://asiancorrespondent.com/73705/burma-frees-prominent-political-prisoners/
But how to interpret this opening of Burma? Will it last? Is it an honest approach of Thein Sein to foster reconciliation within the country and its ethnically very diverse society!? We will see but so far I am positively surprised by the actions the elected leader has taken and so is Aung San Suu Kyi, as she stated in a recent interview.
“’Now that Burma is on the verge of a breakthrough to democracy, we have not yet made the breakthrough, we are on the verge of making such a breakthrough, we look to friends like you to help us along this difficult path,’ she said in a taped interview. It was an honest assessment for a world still beguiled by the Burmese military and President Thein Sein, who came to power a little over a year ago through elections, the first in 20 years, which were condemned as rigged. Since then, he has freed political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, announced a raft of reforms and opened talks with the nation’s ethnic rebel factions, striking a truce with the Karen National Union.”
And it’s always great listening to Suu Kyi. You can do so here as she’s interviewed on the situation in Burma and her thoughts on the reconciliation progress: http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2011/10/aung-san-suu-kyi-democracy?fsrc=rss
There is still a civil war lingering throughout parts of the country. President Thein Sein officially claimed that efforts have been made towards signing ceasefire agreements but the official statements not always show the real picture. There are reports of ongoing fightings whereas a ceasefire agreement has been signed and official talks are held between the government and the ethnic groups leaders. So, we have to give the government some credits on its efforts to reconcile but it is still lacking of sincerity.
The efforts, as outlined in the following articles, do not go along well …. http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2012/01/reforms-myanmar?fsrc=gn_ep
…with the actual situation in 2012, as reported recently in these articles:
“Even as the Burmese government initiates political reforms in much of the country, it has intensified an ethnic civil war here in the resource-rich hills of northern Myanmar, a conflict that at once threatens its warming trend with the United States and could alienate Chinese officials concerned about stability on the border.”
“A Burmese military offensive against ethnic Kachin rebels is hitting the headlines, and non-governmental organizations fear the conflict will lead to a humanitarian crisis after 30,000 to 40,000 people fled their homes for the safety of a makeshift jungle camp.” http://the-diplomat.com/asean-beat/2011/12/16/a-step-back-for-burma/
“How serious is the government about resolving its conflicts with ethnic militias? The Burmese government has pushed for new talks with the ethnic militias, as well as the formation of a peace committee that would meet and help to resolve the conflicts. But at the same time, it has taken a tough approach to groups like the Kachin Independence Organization. And while much of the country seems energized by Thein Sein’s reforms, the ethnic minorities in the north and northeast are actually more unstable than they were just a year or two ago. Without a resolution of these conflicts, no real systemic change is possible in Burma.” http://the-diplomat.com/asean-beat/2011/11/22/being-cautious-on-burma/
“Is this a permanent deal? It does not appear so – yet. But the Karen leadership seems confident at least publicly that they are well on the way to ending the war permanently, expressing high confidence in the Myanmar government, which has launched one surprising reform after the next over the past year.”
So Burma is changing. Okay, we’ll see how that works out; but for now, what are we going to do with that!?
So, what do the Western democracies think of that change. Well, the US acknowledged the “good behavior” of Burmese leaders and sent Secretary of State Clinton to pay a visit to the country, the first of its kind in more than five decades. Furthermore, the US is rethinking it’s sanctions against Burma. If the country follows its way on a more democratic society it is most likely also heading towards a more prosperous future. Economic sanctions will be lifted and trade can kick in, which hopefully will help the people of Burma to elevate them out of poverty (remember, more than a third of the population is still living on less than 1 US$ a day).
For the US there is more at stake though. The main actors on the global stage these days are the US, the EU and China. China’s economy is growing, its influence throughout the world is so rapidly growing that the US is afraid of its number one position in the world and so losing another (resource rich) country is not desirable. Very good article relating t0 this topic: http://www.fpif.org/articles/appeasement_complex
“The reasons are likely more complex. There seems little doubt that receiving approval from Asean to hold the 2014 chair was a factor. But Myanmar may also have wanted to ensure that it would not become overly dependent, or perceived so, on China, the source of much of its economic aid, investment, infrastructure development and military assistance. Myanmar has also been inundated with illegal Chinese immigrants – by some estimates 2 million. The country thus sought improved relations with the US and relaxation of the sanctions regimen to achieve a balance-neutralism that’s been its policy since independence. Since the Obama administration came into office, it’s evident that both Myanmar and the United States have sent signals calling for improved relations. The US wanted Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners freed, and Myanmar wanted relief from sanctions. In July 2009, the US signed the treaty of Amity and Cooperation with Asean, which it had not done before because of Myanmar’s membership, and the Obama administration also quietly dropped the cry for “regime change” and opted for “pragmatic engagement” – keeping the sanctions that Congress in bipartisan manner had approved, but adding high-level engagement.”
“These two most likely reasons for Obama’s sudden change in policy on Burma might appear to be unrelated. The first, democracy promotion, has been a mainstay of liberal foreign policy going back a century. The second, managing China’s rise in what can sometimes look like a sort of “great game” over which great power can project more influence in East Asia, is the kind of hard-nosed realism that typically drives U.S. foreign policy decisions.” http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/11/why-should-the-us-care-about-burma/248721/
What does Joshua Kurlatznick expect the US government to do? He’s a fellow for South-East Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations and is always worth a read on issues around the region: http://the-diplomat.com/asean-beat/2011/12/06/moving-u-s-burma-ties-forward/
Suggestions for the US government on how to deal with the Burmese government after restoring full diplomatic ties: http://blogs.cfr.org/asia/2012/01/13/u-s-restores-diplomatic-relations-with-myanmar/
And what about the EU: the union is easing its stance on the travel restrictions of several Burmese individuals, but for now will keep other sanctions in place. It is going along the American approach, offering some small carrots but still staying on hold regarding the bigger changes. After the by-election in April, we’ll see what is going to happen. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203718504577178543686051920.html
This is the most recent statement made by a Burmese government official during a trip to India on the progress of democracy:
“‘The reform process that we have started is irreversible,’ Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin said in New Delhi during a trip to meet with Indian leaders. ‘There will be no turning back or derailment on the road to democracy.’” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/25/myanmar-reforms-wunna-maung-lwin_n_1230380.html
Let’s hope he is sincere and that his commitment will be shown in the by-elections in April.
The by-elections April 1st, 2012
By-elections have been scheduled for April 1st and Aung San Suu Kyi has registered to run for parliament. In order to convince the international society of an honest approach to reconcile, the generals should hold this election fair. Maybe international observers would create even more trust towards the democratic progress in Burma, but it is of course not always well received by the hosts.
The people involved should take this letter, read it and embrace the message in their efforts…
“One of the great human qualities is the ability to forgive; without it we will continue to live in pain. It is difficult but possible. I beg people in power and all groups to leave the past in the past and build a strong future for Burma. The nation for the people; the people for the nation. The signal that we see now in Burma is a rare positive sign, like the light of a small candle in the dark. We need to nurture it and not blow it out. It is time for the people of Burma to work together, put aside conflicts and bring a great country to her feet. The bright sun will soon shine on Burma again.” http://www.nationmultimedia.com/opinion/Give-Burma-a-chance-30172036.html
That’s it for today. I have some longer articles to read now which will follow the next couple of days. So the next edition will be a short additional writing on the issues dealt with above.