Mar 18, 2013

Myanmar’s getting better — but there’s a long way to go

Myanmar's president -- currently in Australia -- is driving a range of social, political and economic reforms in the former military dictatorship. But Rome wasn't built in a day, writes Victoria Bruce in Myanmar.

Thein Sein

President Thein Sein is slowly transforming Myanmar from a military dictatorship to a fledgling democracy, but for millions of Burmese without basic services, how much have the reforms really helped?

Thein Sein is currently visiting Australia as part of a broader re-engagement strategy. The former military man has put his neck on the line to transform regime-ruled Myanmar, previously known as Burma, from an impoverished nation isolated by decades of punitive sanctions to a country that is rapidly opening up to the outside world.

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2 thoughts on “Myanmar’s getting better — but there’s a long way to go

  1. Exactly!

    Crikey, is Victoria Bruce a “Freelance journalist in Myanmar” or a senior reporter at M-ZINE+, a Myanmar-based business magazine?

    Can he be both, as you have indicated?

    In my view the journalism that suggests on the one hand that “Burma is slowly moving towards democracy” but then immediately questions the “rate of the movement” is a sham. It creates a false dichotomy about what is really happening or happened in Burma.

    It seems plain to me that some time ago American business realised that unless they did something about Burma it would be lost to Chinese industry. Meetings were hastily arranged between the US Embassy and the Burmese military. The Americans promised to make members of the junta fabulously and legitimately rich if they allocated resource and other concessions to American companies. The price of this deal would be some cosmetic changes to the human rights and democracy discourse in Burma, and a good international PR campaign.

    Enter the international PR machine and the Victoria Bruces of this world to tell us that “President Thein Sein is slowly transforming Myanmar from a military dictatorship to a fledgling democracy, but for millions of Burmese without basic services, how much have the reforms really helped?”

    The proper response to Bruce’s question is: Who gives a flying fig!

    Neither Victoria Bruce nor the spin merchants give a fig about the millions of oppressed Burmese. Do they really expect international capitalism to give the Burmese peasantry human rights and democracy?

    Of course western brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi are replacing local beverages, KPMG and the UK’s Standard Chartered Bank have offices in downtown Yangon, a Hilton hotel is tipped to open next year, a Novatel is being built at the edge of Yangon, and 91 telecoms companies have expressed interest in bidding for two mobile licences.

    But tell me something I didn’t know.

    Tell me the details of the meetings between US politicians and the junta, the dates, places, and who was involved. Tell me who from within the Burmese regime is going to become part of the next generation of Burmese multi-millionaire, and name the Americans (and Australians) making fortunes from it all.

    Just don’t mention the oppressed Burmese!

    And Crikey, do you have to publish this? Seriously, why did you give this article a guernsey – is there something you are not disclosing?

  2. Petroleuse

    This article would be laughable if the Burmese Government’s state-sanctioned war against ethnic minorities in that country wasn’t so serious. Let’s start with the Kachin. Despite what President Thein Sein would have us believe, his government’s offensive against the Kachin Independence Army continues apace. On 11 March, more than a 100 trucks carry army reinforcements and heavy equipment were seen entering Kachin State from central Burma. The Chinese, who have invested heavily in Kachin State (jade, hydroelectricity, teak, minerals) and are unhappy about Naypidaw’s love-in with the West, recently allowed the Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) to detour and resupply in Chinese territory. Meanwhile in Shan State – which borders on Yunnan Province – the Chinese are also applying sticks, allowing the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s most powerful ethnic militia, to acquire large quantities of military hardware, including man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) and, for the first time, Chinese-manufactured armored vehicles. None of these developments augur well for the Shan and Kachin people, who have suffered mightily at the hands of the Tatmadaw. And then there are the Rohingya.

    Descendants of Arab merchants, seafarers and soldiers and who arrived during the colonial period, until the 1960s Burmese textbooks included the Rohingya as one of the nation’s ethnic groups. But in 1962 General Ne Win argued that the Rohingya were recognised by the democratic government he just overthrew “to get votes” and that because some Rohingya were descended from colonial-era immigrants, they failed to qualify as an official minority. The 1982 Citizenship Law enacted the official exclusion of the Rohingya, codifying a systematic campaign to force them to leave Burma. Since then, their lives have been utterly miserable. In last year’s communal violence between Rakhinese Buddhists and Rohingya, hundreds of Rohingya Muslims were killed, with nearly 115,000 displaced and thousands of their homes burnt. Many Rohingya who fled the violence have since perished at sea or disappeared. According to UNHCR, in 2012 nearly 13,000 Rohingya refugees attempted to leave Burma on smugglers’ boats. Of thes, at least 500 drowned.

    Aung San Suu Kyi’s position re state-sanctioned violence against Burma’s ethnic minorities is that she has no position. The Lady, like Thein Sein, is a Burman. In other words, her interests are aligned to the dominant ethnic group. Don’t believe the tripe you read in the mainstream Western press – she is regarded with deep suspicion by the ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, western countries like Australia say nothing. After all, there is too much money to be made, isn’t there? Julia Gillard and Bob Carr should hang their heads in shame – it’s not as if they don’t know the truth about the charade that passes for democracy in Burma.

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