« | Home | »

Rapprochement in Burma

Tags:

Since Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in Burma last November, she has travelled the country, drawing large crowds in Bagan in July, launched plans to revitalise the National League for Democracy, and even appeared in the domestic media for the first time in years. She has also been talking with Burma’s new president, Thein Sein.

Last year’s elections, though they were hardly free and fair, allowed some smaller pro-democracy parties to win seats in parliament (the NLD didn’t participate), and created a civilian government, though the generals clearly still wield a lot of power behind the scenes. Thein Sein is a former military officer, but seems to be presenting himself as a reformer: talking to Suu Kyi, calling for exiles to return to the country, and even admitting that Burma has fallen badly behind neighbouring nations – a tacit admission that years of military rule have held the country back.

The dialogue with Suu Kyi gives the government a chance to gain legitimacy, both inside Burma and in the eyes of the world. It may – especially if she were to endorse their plans for development – help them to regain access to International Monetary Fund and World Bank assistance, attract new donors (Burma receives a fraction of the aid of neighbouring nations like Laos), and even, in the long run, get Western nations to drop sanctions, allowing Western investors back into the country and reducing its dependence on China. Suu Kyi’s blessing would also allow Burma to take a larger role in the Association of South-East Asian Nations.

For Suu Kyi, the dialogue might serve as a bridge to real participation in politics again. If the talks yield real rapprochement, she might be able to get NLD members and supporters released from jail, rebuild the party, and get it into shape for the next election. She has also proposed to Thein Sein that she help mediate looming conflict in several areas of the country, where ethnic minority militias appear ready to go back to war with the government.

Then again, we’ve been here before. In the mid-1990s, and again in the early 2000s, some Burmese officials appeared dedicated to reform. The government held limited talks with Suu Kyi, briefly freed her from house arrest, and courted Western investors and officials. The outside world responded by pouring in investment and allowing Burma to join important regional organisations. And, both times, when the generals had got what they wanted, they slammed the door again: Suu Kyi was tossed back in jail, investments were nationalised, political opponents were repressed, and Burma went back to business as usual.

Comments on “Rapprochement in Burma”

  1. Sam Buchanan says:

    On past record, the Burmese regime’s willingness to relax its control is a sign of its belief in the security of its position, rather than a sign of a desire for real reform.Should the NLD reform, and look a serious contender in the next election, will we just see another crackdown, as we’ve seen so often in the past?

    Given fighting has been underway for months, the comment that “ethnic minority militias appear ready to go back to war with the government” seems an understatement. As does “the generals clearly still wield a lot of power behind the scenes” – with a large chunk of parliamentary seats reserved for the military and many more held by former officers, they wield an awful lot of power on the front of the stage as well.

    I may be being pessimistic about the current changes in Burma, but until we see large numbers of political prisoners released and ethnic minorities starting to control their own resources, I feel it’s a safe bet to remain so.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • andymartinink on Reacher v. Parker: Slayground definitely next on my agenda. But to be fair to Lee Child, as per the Forbes analysis, there is clearly a massive collective reader-writer ...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: And in Breakout, Parker, in prison, teams up with a black guy to escape; another white con dislikes it but accepts the necessity; Parker is absolutely...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: Parker may not have the integrity and honesty of Marlowe, but I'd argue that Richard Stark writes with far more of both than Raymond Chandler does: Ch...
    • Christopher Tayler on Reacher v. Parker: Good to see someone holding up standards. The explanation is that I had thoughts - or words - left over from writing about Lee Child. (For Chandler se...
    • Geoff Roberts on Reacher v. Parker: ..."praised in the London Review of Books" Just read the article on Lee Child in a certain literary review and was surprised to find this rave notice...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement