Myanmar/Burma: Inside Challenges, Outside Interests

Lex Rieffel Editor
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Burma had the brightest prospects of any Southeast Asian nation after World War II. In the years since, however, it has dropped to the bottom of the world's socioeconomic ladder. The grossly misruled nation -officially known as Myanmar -is in the midst of a political transition based on a new constitution and its first multiparty elections in twenty years. That transition, together with a recent change in U.S. policy, prompted this book.

    Two military dictators have ruled Myanmar with an iron fist for nearly fifty years. A popular uprising in 1988 was brutally suppressed, but it forced the generals to hold an election in 1990. When an anti-regime party led by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won by a landside, however, the generals rejected the results, put Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of two decades, and continued to exploit the country's abundant resources for their own benefit while depriving citizens of basic services. Years of Western sanctions had no measurable impact, but in 2009 the Obama administration adopted a new policy of "pragmatic engagement," encouraging greater respect of democratic principles and human rights as a basis for eventual removal of sanctions.

    This thoughtful volume examines Burma today primarily through the eyes of its ASEAN partners, its superpower neighbors China and India, and its own people. It provides insights into the overarching problem of national reconciliation, the strategic competition between China and India, the role of ASEAN, and the underperforming, resource-cursed economy.

    Contributors include Pavin Chachavalpongpun (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore), Termsak Chalermpalanupap (ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta), David Dapice (Tufts University), Xiaolin Guo (Institute for Security & Development Policy, Stockholm), Gurmeet Kanwal (Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi), Kyaw Yin Hlaing (City University of Hong Kong), Li Chenyang (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and Yunnan University, Kunming), Andrew Selth (Griffith University, Brisbane), Michael Vatikiotis (Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Singapore), Maung Zarni (London School of Economics)

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0506-2
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Norbert Wagner

    The Konrad Adenauer Foundation is a political foundation close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party. At home as well as abroad, our civic education and briefing programs aim at promoting freedom and liberty, peace, and justice. We focus on supporting and promoting democracy worldwide, on the unification of Europe and the strengthening of the transatlantic relationship, as well as on development cooperation.

    The Konrad Adenauer Foundation has had a long interest in Myanmar. In particular, our Singapore office has supported a series of regional conferences and symposiums that have brought scholars together in China, Hong Kong, and...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Lex Rieffel
  5. A Note on the Name of the Country
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Political Timeline
    (pp. xv-xx)
  7. 1 The Moment
    (pp. 1-30)

    Change is in the air, although it may reflect hope more than reality.

    The political landscape of Myanmar has been all but frozen since 1990, when the nationwide election was won by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The country’s military regime, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), lost no time in repudiating the election results and brutally repressing all forms of political dissent.

    Internally, the next twenty years were marked by a carefully managed partial liberalization of the economy, a windfall of foreign exchange from natural gas exports to Thailand, ceasefire...

  8. Part I Inside Challenges

    • 2 Problems with the Process of Reconciliation
      (pp. 33-51)

      Anyone familiar with Myanmar politics knows that the country’s three main political forces, the military government, prodemocracy groups represented by the National League for Democracy (NLD), and ethnic minority groups, desperately need to reconcile their differences and find a way to work together for the long-term political stability and economic development of the country. While ethnic problems have plagued the country since independence in 1948, the political deadlock between the prodemocracy groups, especially the NLD, and the country’s ruling junta has existed since 1988, when the NLD came into being. Although both the government and the NLD have noted the...

    • 3 An Inside View of Reconciliation
      (pp. 52-76)

      Both historically and in the present, the defining characteristics of politics in Myanmar have been mass poverty in all its dimensions, a multiplicity of conflicts, domination of the weak by the strong, and resistance from below.¹ Sixty years after her independence from Britain, Myanmar is the only country in Southeast Asia that remains engulfed in domestic conflicts, both armed and nonviolent. Despite numerous local and external efforts at mediation and direct political negotiations, neither positive peace nor lasting resolution of conflicts is in sight.

      First, a word about my personal perspective. I was born in Myanmar and spent the first...

    • 4 Recapitalizing the Rural Economy
      (pp. 77-85)

      In January 2009 I met with groups of farmers from areas just north of Mandalay down to areas in the Ayeyarwady Delta that were still recovering from the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. I was part of an assessment team facilitated by International Development Enterprises Myanmar, a nongovernmental organization focused on social entrepreneurship. We were able to meet with many farmers, usually without any officials present, so they were able to speak freely about the challenges they faced.

      This chapter does not recount in detail the findings of our team, which were delivered to International Development Enterprises...

    • 5 Boom on the Way from Ruili to Mandalay
      (pp. 86-100)

      Despite the artificial boundary lines and modern infrastructure that set present-day Myanmar and China apart, trade across the historical frontiers dominated by local forces in the absence of central control has shown no fundamental change over time. After decades of civil war and class struggle impeding economic development in the two countries, market activities and cross-border trade resumed in the 1990s, benefiting local communities on the border and beyond. Cross-border trade today continues to be an indicator of harmony as well as tension in bilateral relations.

      As much as economic prosperity and political stability are mutually reinforcing, one is by...

    • 6 Three Scenarios for Myanmar’s Future
      (pp. 101-110)

      Myanmar’s relationship with Southeast Asia has been problematic for most of the postcolonial era. It did not start that way. When the British left Burma in 1949, the splendid colonial capital of Rangoon was the region’s most developed and progressive city, a regional hub for communications, education, and finance, and the country it represented was Southeast Asia’s most dynamic export economy. But as the rest of Southeast Asia emerged from the cold war and grew prosperous, Myanmar became detached and withdrawn from the region.

      With all the international concern about Myanmar’s torturous internal political struggle, the country’s changing position in...

  9. Part II Outside Interests

    • 7 The Policies of China and India toward Myanmar
      (pp. 113-133)

      Myanmar has the same strategic importance for China and India in both the geopolitical sense and the geoeconomic sense. After the Myanmar military seized power in September 1988, the Chinese and Indian governments both endeavored to expand their influence in Myanmar to protect their national interests. Their policies toward Myanmar had many similarities, but there were also important differences in content and results. This chapter compares the objectives, content, characteristics, process, and results of the policies of China and India toward Myanmar. It assesses the influence of China and India in Myanmar as well as the trend of their relations...

    • 8 A Strategic Perspective on India-Myanmar Relations
      (pp. 134-149)

      India and Myanmar were historically part of the extended British Empire in Asia. Since the two countries became independent at the end of World War II, relations between them have by and large been friendly. At the outset Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and U Nu worked closely with each other in the area of economic development. India even provided some military assistance to Myanmar, and both were active members of the Non- Aligned Movement. However, relations between the two became strained in 1962. India strongly opposed the imposition of military dictatorship in Myanmar by General Ne Win and supported the...

    • 9 ASEAN’s Policy of Enhanced Interactions
      (pp. 150-165)

      As the most comprehensive regional organization in Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has endeavored to include every Southeast Asian country in its fold and to keep member states committed to common regional objectives.¹ Of paramount importance to ASEAN members is the common desire for every Southeast Asian nation and all its peoples—regardless of political system or ideology—to live in peace with one another, cooperate within ASEAN on issues of common interest, join hands in addressing issues of common concern, and work with the international community, particularly ASEAN’s dialogue partners, in building lasting regional peace...

    • 10 The Last Bus to Naypyidaw
      (pp. 166-180)

      Myanmar was admitted into the ASEAN family in 1997. In the face of strong objections from the West and certain civil society organizations in the region, ASEAN insisted on welcoming Myanmar’s regime, claiming that the admission served the organization’s long-term interests. It wanted to engage the rulers of Myanmar constructively to moderate the regime’s repressive policies. It wanted to counter China’s increasingly tight embrace of the Myanmar junta and its growing influence inside Myanmar, considered a potential threat to ASEAN.¹

      The organization’s approach to Myanmar underwent multiple modifications over the years, from constructive engagement to flexible engagement and then to...

    • 11 Myanmar, North Korea, and the Nuclear Question
      (pp. 181-194)

      Since the late 1990s there has been a steady trickle of reports in the news media and on activist websites that Myanmar is developing a close relationship with North Korea.¹ These reports invariably hint at secret military programs with dire consequences for regional stability. During the latter part of 2009, these reports increased in frequency, and warnings about links between these two pariah states grew stronger. They included accusations that Pyongyang was helping the Naypyidaw regime develop the world’s first Buddhist atomic bomb.

      If accurate, these reports would be grounds for serious concern. Before drawing any firm conclusions, however, it...

    • 12 The New U.S. Policy of Pragmatic Engagement
      (pp. 195-200)

      Mr. Chairman, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me here today to testify about U.S. policy toward Burma and a possible new direction for U.S.-Burma relations.

      I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the overarching assessments that helped shape our review. The Administration launched a review of our Burma policy seven months ago, recognizing that political and humanitarian conditions in Burma were deplorable. Neither sanctions nor engagement, implemented alone, have succeeded in improving those conditions and moving Burma forward on a path to democratic reform.

      Moreover, it was clear to us that the problems Burma presents,...

  10. About the Contributors
    (pp. 201-204)
  11. Index
    (pp. 205-212)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-213)