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Japanese View of Burma's Economy, f
- Subject: Japanese View of Burma's Economy, f
- From: brelief@xxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 18 Jan 1996 01:55:00
Subject: Japanese View of Burma's Economy, from Yomiuiri
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January 18, 1996
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MYANMAR NEEDS JAPAN'S ENGAGEMENT'
By Osamu Yasuda
Special to The Daily Yomiuri
The house arrest of Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung
San Suu Kyi six and a half years ago was given only a small
amount of play in most Japanese newspapers. But when she
was released those same newspapers emblazoned the news
across their front pages and made a beeline to her door seeking
In these interviews, Suu Kyi uses an apt expression to describe
the current situation in her country: "If the sun is too hot, the
people have no choice but to divest themselves of their
clothes." This is really a piece of advice to Japan and other
countries to exercise caution in resuming official development
assistance to Myanmar.
She is, in effect, criticizing the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations for its "constructive engagement" strategy that is
designed to open up Myanmar through the expansion of trade
Whereas the United States and Europe maintain that economic
sanctions are necessary to force Myanmar to change its hard -
line policy, ASEAN believes that gradual economic
development of the nation - expedited by their constructive
engagement strategy -- can change the country's oppressive
political climate. ASEAN insists that Suu Kyi's release from
house arrest is evidence that they have chosen the right course.
These assertions are based on their own experiences. Although
the economic development of these countries was often
described as being led by authoritarian leaders, each of the
ASEAN members showed sustainable growth that allowed an
expansion of the middle class. And each is heading down the
path to full democracy, even though progress is somewhat
When a coup d'etat took place in Thailand in 1991, Japan
continued its assistance to that country, while the United States
cut it off. The Thai people apparently believe growth through
economic exchanges, not economic sanctions, will sow the seed
of democracy in the country.
ASEAN nations believe that what Myanmar needs is not a
"north wind" in the form of sanctions, but abundant sunshine in
the form of constructive engagement.
The association expected Japan to resume ODA to Myanmar
and that Japanese companies would leap at the chance to invest
in the country as soon as Suu Kyi was released. This was
because ASEAN believed such assistance would expedite its
efforts to bring Myanmar into its economic sphere and
accelerate the country's transformation.
But Japan gave short shrift to these expectations, with the
government evidently finding in Suu Kyi's assertions reason to
Suu Kyi maintains that resuming ODA and investment at this
time would only help the junta remain in power, without
explaining why this would happen. She has yet to come up
with her own set of policies.
While she was under house arrest, Myanmar's economy was
transformed significantly because of the flow of foreign
investment into the country. Although construction machinery
sent by Japan to improve Yangon's airport rusts away, con-
struction of a road from China's Yunnan Province to Mandalay
and construction of a new airport have made impressive
progress thanks to Chinese investment.
Does Suu Kyi not realize that ASEAN's constructive
engagement and China's impressive economic inroads echo a
common chord within the Myanmar people?
The people are naturally attracted by the prospect of affluence
and dream about the country's economic growth. With their
English ability, they are quick to absorb information from
When we talk about Myanmar and Suu Kyi, it may be useful
to look at 1986 when Corazon Aquino became president of the
Philippines. People had high expectations because she was
considered an ordinary housewife and there was a sense of true
democracy in the air. But she soon gained the reputation of a
Aquino may shine in Philippine history because she departed
from Ferdinand Marcos' violent rule, but she lost her stature
because of the nation's slow economic development. Fidel
Ramos, who succeeded Aquino in 1992, has put things on the
Is there any danger of Suu Kyi going through the same
experience as Aquino?
What Suu Kyi must do is show us that she has organizational
ability and draw up viable policies.
Right now, she appears to have no policy that would help her
country move toward a brighter future.
Suu Kyi has actually resided in her own country for a fairly
short period - not much longer than her house arrest. What she
needs are people who can provide her with a real picture of her
native land and help her to come up with real policies.
Even if Suu Kyi takes over the reins of government, the
problems now besetting the country will not disappear
overnight - achieving progress in economic development,
reconciling ethnic minorities and accelerating democratization.
The question that must be answered is: "How can the nation
develop economically without permitting foreign aid and
investment into the country?"
In the early 1960s, the World Bank forecast that Myanmar and
the Philippines were the two nations in Asia with the best
chance of achieving economic growth. More than 30 years
later, the two nations lag far behind their neighbors.
The Philippines is poised to make a fresh start under Ramos.
What about Myanmar?
The tragedy of Myanmar is that those with little knowledge of
economics had gathered the reins of power into their hands and
they relied heavily on the military to deal with ethnic conflicts,
a legacy of colonial rule.
What Myanmar needs is not a Suu Kyi of nobel character but a
Suu Kyi of political skill.
(Yasuda is director at The Nomura Research Institute)