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translated from japanese mag "sapio

"Mrs.  Suu Kyi is becoming a burden for a developing Myanmar"
Kenichi Ohmae.  SAPIO, November 12, 1997

First, what I perceived through conversations with government officials,
businessmen and civilians in Rangoon was that perhaps the presence of a lady
named Aung San Suu Kyi is becoming a burden to Myanmar.

Myanmar's military regime is doing surprisingly well

To be certain, there is no doubt that the current military regime, which
ousted the elected Aung San Suu Kyi, is illegitimate.  However, the
phenomenon of similarly illegal governments taking over with the support of
military power is one which many Asian, African and Latin American countries
have experienced.  Of 189 countries in the world, about half of those are
nations with illegal military governments, and Myanmar is not unique.

Further, if one actually travels to Myanmar, one will see that the current
regime is managing the government relatively well.  For example, a CEO of a
Korean corporation says, "Compared to ten years ago this is like heaven.  A
lot of profit has been made, and the demands of laborers have increased."
Since ten years ago, he has owned textile and electrical manufacturing
factories, employing more than 20,000 people.

Also, among the people with whom I traveled, there was one person who
visited a year ago, and another who visited three years ago.  Both of them
expressed astonishment and admiration at the numerous improvements made in
such a short period of time.  The number of commodities in the markets have
doubled, infrastructure of road networks refined.  One rarely encounters
soldiers in the streets.  People lead very normal, peaceful lives.  There is
no indication that this is a nation managed by a military regime.

Depending on how one looks at the current regime, the response to the
Myanmar problem changes 180 degrees.   Businessmen unanimously support the
regime and oppose Mrs. Suu Kyi.  In other words, despite their mounting
demands, they are essentially content with the current situation because
they are successfully conducting business under the regime.  If Mrs. Suu Kyi
assumes political authority, people fear that there will be only talk about
democratization without much accomplishment.  Further, they fear that there
will be instability, worse than the conditions under the rule of former
Filipino president Corazon Aquino.

On the other hand, people who are not businessmen overwhelmingly support
Mrs. Suu Kyi.  If there were elections, it seems that the current government
would be rejected by a three-to-one vote and Mrs. Suu Kyi would win by a
landslide.  This is why the US has established her as the Jeanne d'Arc of
Myanmar and is using her to spread their propaganda and pressure the regime.
However, why the US feels the need to do this and to achieve what end is
beyond my comprehesion.

Mrs. Suu Kyi will become a person of the past in a year or two?

The current regime is denounced as being undemocratic, but neither is China
which does not hold elections.  Then why the US is trying to isolate Myanmar
through sanctions despite its steady economic progress, engenders suspicion.
Due to US action the lives of the people have been inconvenienced.  In
addition, investors from Japan and ASEAN, fearful of American reprisal,
resort to establishing "dummy" companies, or invest through Singapore and
use various indirect measures.

However, Myanmar is full of attractions for foreign investors.  The
population is known for its fervently Buddhist ethics; people are very
friendly and aside from the northern mountain regions the nation enjoys a
high level of public safety.  Besides Japan and Singapore, Myanmar is one of
the safest places to walk alone at night.  The local guide claims that
murder cases have been unheard of in recent years.

Villages are extremely clean.  There are no slums.  This is due to the lack
of difference in wealth.  In Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines the gap in
income is significant and there is an influx of starving people from the
villages to the cities, but they remain poor and miserable after their
migration.  Myanmar is a rare case; it does not suffer from either
overcrowded cities or destitution.  Everyone in this country is a
land-owning farmer and is self-sufficient.  There are no wealthy farmers and
no peasants.  Very simply, everyone is poor.

Seeing the lives of the people of Myanmar, I remembered Japan in previous
years.  I was raised in the countryside in Kyushu, where children always
walked around barefoot, the lights were not electric, and the bathrooms had
no running water.  The current Myanmar mirrors these memories of farming
villages in Japan.  Japan at the time was poor in comparison to the US but
this was not detrimental to Japan.  Except for the immediate post-war
period, there was no lack of food because the villages were self-sufficient.
Today's Myanmar is similar and although the per capita GNP is relatively low
at $300 to $400 per annum, the negative effects of this is not very visible.

Even China, a similar economy where the per capita GNP is under $500, has
entered a type of "money-worshipping" capitalism where no one can be
trusted.  As in Vietnam, where they have decided to industrialize, people's
material demands increases, and everyone seeks to become rich quickly.  The
streets in Vietnam are overcrowded with swarms of bicycles and mopeds.  In
contrast, the people of Myanmar are in no hurry to get to any destination.
They are conscientious and lead relaxed, yet frugal lives.  This is the
reality of Myanmar.

Seeing this, one cannot help but think that in a year or two, Mrs. Suu Kyi
will be a person of the past.  Although the government is a military
authority, it has relaxed regulations and implemented liberalization
measures aiming for a market economy.  This year, after finally realizing
the admission into ASEAN, as in the fable of the "Northwind and the Sun,"
Myanmar has started to shed its coat.  In regard to infrastructure,
significant improvements have been made.  For example, until last year it
took hours to get to the historic ruins in Pagan.  This year the roads are
all paved, and it takes two hours to get there.  Despite the general
aversion of the military authority, such visible progress allows people to
accept the accomplishments and to say that time will leave Suu Kyi behind.

The largest consumer of drugs is the US

Another issue criticized by the US is drugs.  Northern Myanmar's production
of narcotics has become an industry.  The government has not tried to
control this; in fact, the US has charged that they take bribes to condone
such activity.  The Chief of the Economic Development Agency, David Arbel
(?), exclaimed with anger that "there is no harsher misunderstanding."
According to Arbel, the government of Myanmar is battling narcotics.  In
this effort, 600 public servants have died, and 3000 civilians have been
victimized.  However, the US continues to attack the Myanmar government,
ignoring the fact that the US itself is the largest consumer of narcotics.
Arbel says that from his perspective, the US claims are incomprehensible.

What is the reality?  I asked a businessman, who revealed that the
government has been tackling the problem of drugs, but it is also involved
in deals.  If the government plunges into a full-scale crackdown on the
narcotics network, then there would be significantly more casualties than
the previous 600 or 3000 casualties.  These groups involved with the
narcotics trade are armed as well.  Therefore, after having weakened them to
a certain extent, it is giving them some time to switch to another crop or
to abolish the industry altogether.  It might be said that these measures do
not suffice.

Another businessman had a different perspective.  Myanmar's highlands
leading to the Himalayans have no roads.  In such valley areas, if people
produced something for profit, they must travel to a town hundreds of
kilometers away.  However, there is no need for that with drugs; a purchaser
will come to the village .  The circumstances would be different if
transportation was improved, but aside from drugs, no other produce would
attract buyers.  To end this business without an alternative would be to
leave the villagers to starve.

Therefore, it is more important for the infrastructure to be improved, and
for the villagers to be able to support themselves through means such as
tourism.  However, no tourist would visit areas where there is a constant
fear of clashes between the government troops and drug lords.  These are
only some of the obstacles to major problems troubling the government.

In the end, what we experienced during our trip was that the US is utterly
one-sided.  George Soros, a speculator, is the main critic of Myanmar.  When
I interviewed him earlier for this magazine, I asked if he had ever been to
Myanmar.  He said that he had not.  I feel it is wrong to criticize this
country without having been there.  One trip to Myanmar and everyone would
love the country.  This trip made me doubt the validity of the American
policy which imposed  economic sanctions on such a country solely on the
basis that it is a military regime and undemocratic.

With regard to foreign relations and ODA, these factors must be taken into
account before any new developments unfold.  Japan cannot become a true
friend of Asia if it acts to please the US which imposes democracy on
others.  In the next issue, I will report on Myanmar's industries, commodity
prices and labor power.