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The Times of India, New Delhi, December 15 1995
View Point
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
View Point
Myanmarese Rights
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 
garment factory.
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.
>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 
and economically.
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.