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Win Naing in the Nikkei Weekly

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The Nikkei Weekly, March 30, 1998

Seeking dialogue, not confrontation
Former Activist Says Myanmar Must Make Economy Top Priority

Special to The Nikkei Weekly

Win Naing, 38, was once a leading pro-democracy activist in Japan.  He 
worked closely with Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for 
Democracy (NLD).  Along with a group of other activists, he attended the 
1992 ceremony in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Suu Kyi, 
who was under house arrest at the time.  In 1992, Win Naing became the first 
Myanmar granted refugee status by the Japanese government - a government 
that rarely grants refugee status to non-diplomats.  But Win Naing is 
different now.  He is calling on the NLD to ease what he sees as their 
hard-line insistence on democracy and cooperate with the government to 
achieve a higher level of economic development.

Q: Why did you lead anti-government activities in Japan?

A: I came to Japan in 1980 and worked for four years at a Fuji Photo Film 
Co. affiliate in Gifu Prefecture.  I then studied image science at Chiba 
University.  The longer I stayed in Japan, the more patriotic I became and 
the stronger my desire became to help my country develop like Japan.  The 
1988 military coup infuriated me, so I created the Burmese Association in 
Japan with my aunt, who had been running a hotel on the Izu Peninsula, to 
organize pro-democracy movements here.  At that time, I was offered a 
teaching post at a U.S. university, but I gave up my career as engineer to 
concentrate on anti-government activities.

Q: What kind of activities were you involved in?

A: Apart from organizing demonstrations in front of the Myanmar Embassy, I 
tried to put maximum pressure on the government by using Japan's political 
influence on Myanmar.  I met regularly with Japanese politicians and 
succeeded in having nearly 110 of them form the Association of Members of 
the Diet Who Support Myanmar's Democratization.  I also collected signatures 
from more than half of all Diet members appealing to the Myanmar government 
to comply with results of the 1990 elections and release Suu Kyi.

Q: In the last few years you've shifted your stance from confrontation to 
dialogue with the government. Why?

A: As I learned more about the modern histories of developed countries such 
as Japan, the U.S., the U.K. and South Korea, I realized a democracy can be 
stable only after certain economic and social conditions are met. I realized 
Suu Kyi is wrong in her priorities. Of course I view human rights as being 
important, but if we look at the current stage of Myanmar's development, 
human rights cannot be the top priority.  As a Myanmar saying goes, "An 
empty sack cannot stand upright."  And as the Japanese put it, "People learn 
decency after having enough food and clothing."  People first need jobs to 
put food on the table.

Democracy works only where people are properly educated.  If the majority of 
voters are uneducated, the result is an ochlocracy [?], not democracy.  So 
the theory of giving priority to rights over the economy may be right for an 
already affluent society, but not yet for Myanmar.

Q: What are you focusing on now?

A: I left the Burmese Association in Japan in 1996.  Now I try to help the 
NLD and the Myanmar government break the impasse and engage in a 
constructive dialogue.  I'm urging the NLD to think practically and stop its 
single-minded insistence that the government transfer power.  I work hard to 
make them realize this is an unrealistic goal, and that the overriding 
priority is the economy.  My former colleagues accuse me of being a traitor, 
but I wish they would wake up.

Suu Kyi has sought to put pressure on the government by urging foreign 
governments to isolate Myanmar and asking foreign investors to stay away.  I 
wish she could realize this is counterproductive, hurting ordinary citizens 
by eliminating jobs that would otherwise be created.