Rangoon (Mizzima) - In an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, every nation has to deal with the international community in one way or another in order to achieve aims including domestic improvements and peaceful coexistence regardless of how strong or weak it stands up among world nations.
For Burma, which is no exception, the United Nations is still the best option, through the mandate of which the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) is well positioned to take further steps forward to being a modernized entity democratically demonstrable.
There has already been a recent, concrete example. As well thanks to the ASEAN’s lobby, the UN’s humanitarian intervention took place in Burma, delivering a great supply of relief assistance, when it was hard hit by Nargis Cyclone last May, which left more than 130,000 dead or missing and some 2.4 million in need of continued support.
Also in response to the UN’s political facilitation, the military government released more than 6,300 prisoners soon after UN Human Rights expertTomas Ojea Quintana visited the Southeast Asian country. Unfortunately there were only 24 political prisoners included out of more than six thousand prisoners released.
“This is the time for Burma to seize the opportunity before it, to send positive signals,” said the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, expressing his willingness to visit Burma again. He last travelled to Burma in May after the cyclone devastated the Irrawaddy coastal areas.
At this juncture, it is for the military government to show its more positive and responsive actions and gestures to the international community’s sincerity with Burma’s democratization process.
The military regime already knew how fast the cyclone-devastated areas came to recover because it allowed the delivery of international assistances (after initial resistance and delay) through a newly-formed body called Tripartite Core Group, which comprises the government authority, the UN and the ASEAN.
That could be a sign that the junta is gradually departing from its isolationism stance amid situations, which demand greater cooperation with the international community in this globalised age to be able to address domestic issues, although a few top-ranking military officials falsely claimed that the country could manage to recover from the natural disaster then.
It would be fair to say that the military elites could have adopted much more precaution to offset any political string, which is likely to come along with international aids to the local needy. The military government might have learnt from Indonesia province of Aceh experience. After Tsunami in 2004, it got huge assistances from all over the world, which had negative effects on the Acehnese, contaminating the Acehnese. For example, money politics and under-age-voting occurred in the 2006 elections on Aceh for its governor and mayor.
Frankly speaking, a full recovery with Burma’s suffered areas is a national concern. Needless to say that the planned 2010 elections is an issue that can be crucial for the country and that many world nations and ASEAN are interested in it and watch out for, as a step to transition to democracy.
It is sure that not just Burmese people but their military government would like to be proud of their country’s goal to a prosperous, democratic one, though there are differences in what kinds of democracy one actually wants to see for the country.
Looking back the recent past, ASEAN may be the most important component of any international Burma policy, inviting the country to join it in 1997, partly because it thought that the integration would be more workable than pursuing the isolation to influence the military government. That’s also partly because ASEAN is intent on containing China’s influence on the nation’s natural resources.
At the same time, the 10-member bloc has come to recognize that Burma is not only a stain on its international reputation but also a drain on its diplomatic resources, plus a trauma to peace and stability in the region of more than five hundred million population.
Inside Burma, however, since 1996, four years after Senior General Than Shwe took the chair of the junta, repression grew more brazen, sending thousands of democracy activists and ordinary citizens to prison and displacing over one million people – mostly Karen and Shan minorities, which has resulted in their open-exile in Bangladesh, China, India, Malaysia and Thailand.
The United States limited its diplomatic contact with the junta and eventually imposed mandatory trade and investment restrictions on the regime and its business back bones. Europe became a vocal advocate for Burma’s reforms and human rights. However, many Asian states moved to expand trade, aid, and diplomatic engagement with the military elites. China and Russia have vetoed attempts to impose international sanctions on Burma in the United Nations Security Council.
The answer is simple: Some countries still want Burma as it is. China and India could be the greatest obstacles to efforts to introduce genuine democratic reforms in the country. China has many interests in Burma. Over the past 15 years, it has developed deep political and economic relations with Burma, largely through billions of dollars in trade and investment and more than a billion dollars’ worth of weapons sales. It enjoys important military benefits, including access to ports and listening posts, which allow its armed forces to monitor naval and other military activities around the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea.
To feed its insatiable appetite for energy, it also seeks preferential deals with the ruling generals for access to Burma’s oil and gas reserves.
Beijing’s engagement with the SPDC has been essential to the regime’s survival. China has provided it with moral and financial support — including funds and materiel to pay off Burma military elites — thus increasing its leverage at home and abroad. By throwing China’s weight behind the SPDC, Beijing has complicated the strategic calculations of those of Burma’s neighbours that are concerned about the direction the country is moving in, thus enabling the junta to pursue a classic divide-and-conquer approach.
Like China, India is hungry for natural gas and other resources and is eager to build a road network through Burma that would expand its trade with ASEAN implementing its “Look East” policy. As a result, it has attempted to match China step for step as an economic and military partner of the SPDC allowing it to become now Burma’s fourth-largest trading partner. Successive governments in India after 1990s including the present Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government have also fallen for the junta’s blackmail over cross-border drug and arms trafficking and has preferred to give it any assistance necessary rather than let Burma become a safe haven for insurgents active in India’s troubled northeastern region.
Amid such challenges to move Burma forward, ASEAN leaders are highly expected to consider the interests of millions of people in Burma, and avoid an elite-to-elite vanity fair. All in all, multilateral-scale honesty and transparency are much in need, if the regional leaders are really working on a true development and democracy in the region including Burma. What’s more, it is ASEAN leaders, who gather at the 14th Summit in Thailand, to use an opportunity to be forging a new Burma leadership.