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Reply-To: "W. Kesavatana-Dohrs" <dohrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>


International Herald Tribune

January 16, 1997

By Philip Bowring

Bangkok -- Drugs as much as human rights and trade could become the pivot
in US relations with Southeast Asian countries.  The reason is Burma.
	Minor frictions will continue as Western nongovernmental efforts
to link trade and human rights mesh with local efforts.  These frictions
are containable within traditional close ties between the West and
non-Communist Southeast Asia.  The regime in Rangoon is a different
	Western opposition to Burma being invited to join the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations while the present regime remains in power has
engendered plenty of official resentment in a region sufficiently
confident to react strongly against outside interference.  Established
regimes in the ASEAN countries are also upset because local opposition
parties, as in Malaysia, have latched on to the anti-Burma theme.
	Geographically, Burma is part of the region, and its government is
arguably only marginally more oppressive than that of Vietnam.  It has
received Western attention mainly because of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the
persecuted opposition leader.
	But one factor distinguishes Burma from Vietnam and lays 
ASEAN open to charges of hypocrisy:  heroin.
	The opium/heroin business has blossomed under Rangoon's junta.
The realm of the drug lord Khun Sa has not been abolished, it has been
absorbed.  The junta is deeply involved with the drug barons.  Drugs are
the country's main income earner.
	One result is that foreign investors, particularly in hotel and
property development, have difficulty finding partners whose capital does
not derive from this source.
	ASEAN (and other) countries insist that investment will open up
Burma politically and economically.  It is none of their business how
local partners get their funds.
	But the heroin trade is increasingly a regional problem.
Singapore's draconian anti-drug laws have been successful in keeping local
usage rates low, but Singapore is an exception.  Addiction is surging in
Malaysia, despite laws almost as tough as in Singapore.  The number of
addicts in Burma itself is now catching up with Thailand's estimated
500,000.  China has major addiction problems in Yunnan.
	Despite frequent executions of small dealers, and some
high-profile punishment of foreigners, the region in general has made
scant effort to tackle the kingpins.  They are too rich, or are
politically useful -- especially to China.
	Money laundering is often viewed as legitimate business for
financial centers, and investors are not encouraged to look too closely at
the color of their Burmese partners' money.  Heroin is spreading in the
region -- and bringing needle-driven AIDS with it.
	There is nothing now to be gained by backing away from a tough
policy toward a regime for which heroin is not just an unfortunate fact of
life, or even a useful bonus.  Drugs and Chinese weapons are the Burmese
junta's lifelines.
	It is argued that the US attitude toward the junta is driving it
further into China's arms, depriving America of commercial opportunities
and encouraging Rangoon's reliance on drug money.  The reality is that
Burma offers few legitimate, long-term business opportunities.  And the
reliance on China could scarcely be greater than it is now.
	This is an issue on which the United States can take a stand and
expect that ASEAN countries will swallow a little pride and recognize
where their self-interest lies.

International Herald Tribune