Written by U Ne Oo on 2002-05-12

(Comment to editorial in The Australian)

It's all very well to request DASSK/NLD and advising Burma democracy movement to open-up the economy. Unfortunately, what we find over the years is that those who came up with the free-market rhetoric are not exactly helping democracy movement in practical way. Take just one example. For Burma to have a realistic exchange rate, a substantial injection of funds from World Bank and IMF will be needed. The Burmese democrats are not going to ask for such injection of funds unless they can be sure that Burmese military does not use those money up in buying weapons. One practical way to help out in this situation is to get United Nations Security Council to approve international arms embargo. Note that the US, UK, EU and Australia already have such embargo; but the Chinese and Russians do sell weapons to Burma. Exactly who will help

us to implement the international arms embargo ?

What we also find is that the oil companies, PTT/TOTAL/UNOCAL and Premier, are more of hindrance than helpers to the democracy movement. Bullying of refugees in Thailand by PTT/TOTAL/UNOCAL (that was in few years back) and Premier Oil messing up with the Australian sponsored human rights training programs in Burma are just few of the examples.

For advocates of "free-market first and democracy come later", the usual rationale is the "trickle down effect" of economic benefits to the population. But just have a look at the example of what happening to the Thailand's payment for gas to Burmese junta last year (i.e. PTT/TOTAL/UNOCAL joint venture). The Burmese junta just buy up jet fighters from Russia. Isn't it an economic trickle down from foreign oil companies ? Yes. It is. It is the trickle down of bombs and bullets.

Regards, U Ne Oo

07may02 The Australian


AUNG San Suu Kyi walked free yesterday, having survived a second term of house arrest at the hands of Burma's military junta. Her courage is a great example to the hundreds of others still jailed for daring to speak their mind. And, as sure as all Burmese want a better life, Aung San Suu Kyi's efforts will be rewarded - eventually. But she faces even greater tests of patience in the next few months as Burma tries to emerge from decades of suffocating isolation.

The key will be how she manages her relationship with her captors, as they begrudgingly accept economic and political reform. She will be under immense pressure to pursue rapid political change at all costs. To rush in without accepting that the military still holds all the cards, however, or to rush off overseas to rally the anti-junta forces, would be remiss. Her talks with the military have passed the stage of confidence-building, and the economy and a new constitution are next up. She can do most good by staying in Burma to see them through.

But it will be hard to overturn 40 years of military rule, which has turned isolationism into an ideology, much like North Korea. It is welcome that the regime has committed "to allowing all of our citizens to participate freely in the life of our political process, while giving priority to national unity, peace and stability of the country as well as the region". But it is also a warning to Aung San Suu Kyi to work within "our political process". Further, the 132 ethnic groups within Burma's 42 million population remain to be drawn together.

Any shift towards democracy in Burma, then, is likely to be painfully slow and difficult. That means the junta's most important concession is not necessarily the half-hearted political one but rather a recognition that economic and social stability will depend on "improving the welfare of our diverse people". The military is finally seeing that enforced isolationism - what Aung San Suu Kyi has called the regime's "imaginary world" - has not delivered. Isolationism has intensified the problems of drug-trafficking and AIDS, rather than protected Burma from them. And while a small elite has enjoyed rising living standards, isolationism has hurt its people. As the accompanying table suggests, the more a country opens itself to the global economy, the richer it will be. The more countries such as Burma, Cambodia and North Korea isolate themselves, the poorer they will be. And, of course, economic and democratic openness work hand in hand to reward the enterprise and

initiative of a nation's people.

Aung San Suu Kyi should seize on the military's economic concession and work to open Burma's economy. She made a speech in January 1999 suggesting she understood that Burma must be global to survive. "We cannot be isolated and stand alone in this world," she said. Even a few joint ventures with international companies would quickly establish an aspirational class in Burma. Besides allaying fears about China's strategic use of Burma, more international trade could likewise quickly improve the lot of the Burmese and unleash their zeal for democracy. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a friend of UN envoy Razali Ismail, who helped achieve her release, knows Burma's economic potential. Both Malaysians also know the most pressing problems of the Burmese transcend politics - the need for better food, education and health, particularly when the number of heroin addicts and HIV sufferers is reaching epidemic proportions.

While Aung San Suu Kyi should work for the political reforms that will secure Burma's long-term future, she must also accept immediately the challenge to work with the military to improve the lot of her people. That means opening the economy, so globalisation can provide a lifeline for her suffocating nation.

The trackling down of Bombs and bullets