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The Times of India, New Delhi, December 15 1995
Suu Kyi's Challenge to the junta
by C. Uday Bhaskar
The decision by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, on November 29, that her National
League for Democracy (NLD) would boycott the official Constitutional
Convention has turned the spotlight on Myanmar once again. The resultant
political turbulence in Yangon is of considerable significance to the southern
Asian region that includes China, India and Asean for the internal
development in Myanmar impinge on their respective strategic and security
The reaction of the military junta -- the State Law and Order Restoration Council
(SLORC) -- has been predictably harsh and the latent xenophobia among the
Myanmarese people is being stoked. Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner is
being referred to as a traitor -- with comparisons being made to Maung Ba Than
of the late 19th century who helped the British capture Mandalay. This intrepid
lady and her pro-democracy colleagues have been warned of "annihilation" if
they tried to de-stabilize the country and the timing could not have been more
awkward as far as the SLORC is concerned.
An Asean summit meeting scheduled for December 14 in Bangkok, to which the
leaders of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar have been invited is expected to admit
these three nations in the near future. Myanmar is under close scrutiny for its
adherence to some basic norms of governance and respect for human rights.
Concurrently the SLORC is consolidating relations with all the major Asian
nations. The last month saw both India and Japan resuming their air links with
Myanmar. The SLORC has invested considerably in designating 1996 as
"visit Myanmar" year and none of the present developments augur well for shoring
up the credibility of the regime.
Ms Suu Kyi's boycott of the Constitutional Convention has been on the cards soon
after her release from house arrest on July 10. Since then it was evident that the
SLORC was unwilling to enter into meaningful "dialogue" with her -- and was
instead attempting to marginalise her personally and the NLD as a party. In a
gesture of symbolic rejection of the SLORC, at the junta refusal to incorporate
truly democratic principles, the 86 seats allotted to the NLD were empty on
November 29 when the Constitutional Convention was convened.
The import of this non-violent means of registering the NLD protest has not gone
unnoticed and places limits on the coercive brinkmanship that the SLORC can
resort to. Ms Suu Kyi has played her limited cards with great acumen. While
highlighting the fact that the military (tatmadaw) has a special status in nation-
building, Ms Suu Kyi invariably draws attention to the fact that she has a soft
contribution of her father, the late General Aung San in the Burmese march of
Even the most severe critics of the SLORC concede the centrality of the tatmadaw
in consolidating the nascent Burmese state. Ms Suu Kyi has been steadfast in
seeking a national reconciliation that will give the tatmadaw is rightful due within
democratic framework and adds that she has boycotted the convention since "the
basic principle of the proposed constitution include some which are not consonant
with a truly democratic state"
Democracy in East and SE Asia has nurtured its own mutant from where
authoritarianism has been combined with exceptional economic growth rates. Thus
the definition of a true democratic state in the region is a tricky proposition and in
many cases the armed forces have a significant political role.
The SLORC appear to have chosen the Indonesian model of 'dwifungsi' -- or a
recognized and constitutionally endorsed dual-function for the armed forces in
defense and governance. The constitution is being steered by the SLORC
emphasizes two significant clauses that would fetter the NLD -- first the primacy
of the tatmadaw in governance which will place the army the army chief above
the president. The other is to ban any Myanmarese married to a foreigner from
holding high political office -- in effect to a British academic. The latter's response
has been measured and she has reiterated her willingness to abjure any political
office but refuses to be cowed down in her non-violent struggle for democracy.
The dilemma of the SLORC -- whether to contain MS Suu Kyi through
intimidation or engage her in constructive dialogue -- finds a mirror image
in the predicament of Myanmar's major interlocutors. Most Asian nations have
adopted a strategy of constructive engagement at the behest of ASEAN and as a
means of balancing the growing Chinese influence in Myanmar. Consequently the
economic linkages are growing and while the Sino-Myanmar relationship is deeply
entrenched on many fronts, the engagement and investment of ASEAN, Japan and
India is not insignificant.
Unless the present impasse is resolved in a manner that will protect the democratic
aspirations of the Myanmarese people without eroding the fragile chemistry of nation-
state chosen, it is likely that Myanmar once described a 'pyidawtha' - country of peace
and prosperity would become 'pyidawcha' -- a politically stagnant country.
The Times of India, New Delhi, December 15 1995
By Joe Pang
Should human rights activists in Western nations, in their campaign for democratic
reform in Myanmar, take away the right to work of thousands of Myanmarese with
jobs in garment factories?
in 1989, as Burma began its open-door economic reforms after nearly three decades
of socialist isolation, I visited Rangoon to explore the feasibility of setting up a
I was shocked to discover that unemployment was 60 per cent and that many young
people in their mid-20 with high school or even college education had never had an
opportunity to work. Practically the only jobs available were in the civil service or
small-scale shops and restaurants.
After several months of negotiations, we opened our first joint venture factory with
Myanmar Textile Industries, a division of the Ministry of Industry. I still remember
the began recruiting. Despite heavy monsoon rains, more than 2,0000 young
Myanmarese came for the 400 jobs. Many were malnourished, and those who were
unsuccessful at first refused to leave when we announced that the positions had been
Other foreign investors followed our example, and today there are eleven joint venture
garment plants in Yangon employing some 15,000 Myanmarese. An experienced
garment worker can earn between $30 and $40 a month -- nearly double the salary
of a director in a state enterprise or government body. Business in supporting
industries has also grown, and the trickle-down economic effect has been significant,
as shown by the shop that have opened near the factories.
However, since last year many of our U.S. customers have been under pressure from
various human rights groups, including New York-based Coalition for Corporate
Withdrawal from Myanmar. These activists threaten to picket any stores selling
Myanmarese-made goods. They also threaten to buy shares of any publicly listed
company importing such goods, to voice their view at annual stockholders
Initially the activists' threats were ignored. However, under continuous pressure,
including picketing, some of our customers finally caved in.
Garment exports to the United States from many groups of companies in Myanmar
reached $32 million in 1994. This year we expected the figure to fall below $10
million. Workers average pay, which is mainly calculated by piece-rate, has fallen
to $12 a month. In the next few months we expected to have to lay off up to half of
our workforce because of the slump in American demand.
American human rights activists assert that the Myanmarese government violates
human rights and represses democracy. But do they consider the rights of workers
in Myanmar? Their misguided actions will hurt the very people they purport to help.
(International Herald Tribune)
The Times of India, New Delhi, December 15 1995.
CHINA HAS CAPITALIZED ON MYANMAR's ISOLATION
>From S.N.M. Abdi
Yangon, Myanmar: The resumption of Indian Airlines' Calcutta-Yangon flight
after 23 years in more a matter of politics than communication. India is keen to
strengthen its ties with Myanmar, where the shadow of China is lengthening.
India's biggest source of worry stems from reports that the ruling State Law and
Order Restoration Council of Myanmar is considering a Chinese gain access to
the strategic Haigyi and Coco islands, Indian naval bases in the Andamans and
Vishkapatnam would become vulnerable.
While Chinese influence in Myanmar has increased dramatically since 1987,
Indo-Myanmar bilateral relations have nose-dived. The military junta here openly
accused India of aiding Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's movement for the restoration of
democracy. All India Radio's pro-democracy broadcasts in Burmese language
became a major irritant.
Yangon lodged an official protest but the broadcast were stop only in 1991. Another
sore point was the asylum granted by India to hundreds of pro-democracy activists.
In the surcharged atmosphere, surveillance on the Indian mission and its staff was
stepped up. Even the mission's request for STD and ISD facilities was turn downed.
In contrast, China seized the much-awaited opportunity to revive its relations with
Myanmar when general Ne Win handed over power to the General Saw Maung-
led junta in 1987. The international trade and aid sanctions imposed on Myanmar
the following year after thousands of pro-democracy activists were shot down by
the army and Suu Kyi placed under house arrest, came as a windfall to China. It
capitalized on Myanmar's isolation.
China extended political support to the new regime and helped it build
infrastructure like road and bridges. Trading between the two countries was
stepped up; Myanmar was flooded with Chinese goods ranging from pins to
bicycles. Its armed forces are Chinese-equipped. For building infrastructure,
China, according to official, is pumping in $800 million annually. Since 1987,
it has supplied arms worth $1.5 billion.
Historically, China has been close to Myanmar since 1962, when General Ne Win
seized power and isolated the country from rest of the world. The Chinese were his
only friends. He nationalized everything and Indians were among the worst-hit.
Rich Indian left the country, leaving behind the poor to fend for themselves. The
Chinese, on the other hand, began to exert their influence politically, socially
There was a backlash in 1967. Chinese lives and properties were destroys in
violent riots. China retaliated by funding and activating the Burmese Communist
Party (BCP) to create difficulties for General Ne Win. Two decades later, with the
departure of General Ne Win, the Chinese cut off all aid t the BCP to please the
Since 1993, Myanmar has forged close economic ties with three ASEAN counties;
Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. Although it is not a member, it has attended
ASEAN conferences as a guest of the host country. It has been invited for the
forthcoming Bangkok summit too. Myanmar has signed a treaty of friendship
and amity with all ASEAN countries, barring Philippines.
China, according to officials, is a bit worried by Myanmar's attempted to diversify
its foreign relations. Since last December, three top-ranking Chinese leaders have
visited Yangon. Prime Minister Li Peng came last year, the defense minister
arrived in August and Li Ruihhan, ranked fourth in the party hierarchy, came
calling this month.