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AsiaWeek Editorial on Burma

Subject: AsiaWeek Editorial on Burma

Editorial, AsiaWeek, January 19, 1994

Freeing Burma

Business will succeed where sanctions are failing

Sanctions seldom work, and they haven't worked against Burma. 
Prosperity, on the other hand, does change governments--and that is
the country's best hope.  Though far from the soaring affluence
that would impress the Thais next door, the pace of change under
the present dispensation in Rangoon is a definite advance on Ne
Win's "Burmese Way to Socialism."  To be sure, nobody outside the
country, and precious few within it, has much time for SLORC, the
repressive junta that so crudely and blatantly stole the 1990
elections.  But the surest way to defeat tyranny, however
unpalatable the notion may be to Burma' anti-government
intellectuals, may be to let it evolve into something more
acceptable.  There is a formula for achieving that, one that has
been tried and tested all over eastern Asia: increasing prosperity
through foreign trade and investment.
  Every patriot who leaps up to shout "No cooperation with killers"
ought to stop and think.  If he earnestly believes SLORC is going
to be toppled by international pressure, let him remain steadfast
in opposition to all commercial dealings with Rangoon.  But if his
instinct is to say, "It is better for the people to suffer another
generation of poverty and despair than to let power-grabbing rogues
win international recognition," he ought to examine the nature of
his patriotism.  Pinning faith on sanctions is futile.  They have
not budged Mr. Saddam Hussein, Mr. Fidel Castro, Mr. Kim Il Sung or
Mr. Muammar Gaddaffi.  And even if North Korea and Cuba do soon
implode, think  how long it will have taken, and how great the
  The other way is proven beyond a doubt.  Economic progress lifts
material expectations and gives everyone a stake in social harmony. 
Progress raises the level of education, unshackles the flow of
information and makes it ever more difficult to deny people their
political rights.  The last thing generals who are enriching
themselves from business want is resentment that scares away
foreign investors.  The ideological cast of repression is not the
crucial factor.  So much of the self-image of the communist parties
in China and Vietnam is now tied to rising prosperity that it would
be self-destructive for them to turn back.  South Korea and Taiwan,
starting from the other end of the political spectrum, arrived at
the same destination, though earlier and in a fitter state.  The
midnight knock on the door by security police inevitably becomes
  The situation in Burma is complicated by ethnic minorities who
have long fought for autonomy. But would the alternative government
handle separatist aspirations more tolerantly than SLORC?  There is
no question that the resistance movement has a better right to
govern.  Any by any conceivable measure of justice, the junta in
Rangoon is bound to free Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi from the house arrest
under which it has so disgracefully kept her since 1989.  But it is
SLORC that rules.  And it is a sad truth that the sacked
legislators now inspire little confidence in their competence. 
Even if Ms. Suu Kyi were to take control, she may well be inclined,
like Ms. Corazon Aquino in the Philippines ,  to put freedom and
justice on a level with economic development.  Recent Asian history
shows that when that happens in poor countries, wealth creation
slows and the Vietnams of the world streak ahead.

 Individual liberties in Vietnam and China are far from what
foreign idealists would wish, but the progress these two have made
since 1974 is unquestionably greater than any 20 years of
achievement in the model democracies of Europe and North
America.For many Burmese patriots, the admission will be too bitter
a pill to swallow, but is there any alternative but the Cuban one? 
It is better to let a "socialist market economy," or something like
it, first take root.  So let the process begin. Let the regions's
business stormtroopers, with their own authoritarian history
already well behind them, apply the profit-motivated East Asian
success recipe to make Burmese exports flow.  Then we may see the
flowering of economic freedoms, followed in due and predictable
course by political ones.