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Co-ordinated, carrot-and-stick approach needed for Burma

Posted by theonlinecitizen on October 31, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Monks return to the streets of Burma. (BBC)

No one party will be able to bring about lasting change for the better in Burma on its own.

By Gerald Giam

The shooting appears to have stopped, but the sufferings of the 47 million people of Burma are far from over. Effectively, little has changed from the time the popular uprising against the military government first began in August.

The strongman, Senior General Than Shwe, still wields absolute power in the country; opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi still remains under house arrest; thousands of protest leaders remain under arrest; and ordinary civilians are still cowed down in their homes.

However some glimmers of hope are appearing.

United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari was allowed into the country in early October and was permitted to meet with both Gen Than Shwe and Ms Suu Kyi. Gen Than Shwe agreed to Prof Gambari’s suggestion to appoint a “Minister for Relations” with Ms Suu Kyi. The minister, Mr Aung Kyi, met Ms Suu Kyi on Oct 25. The junta has also agreed to admit Prof Gambari to Burma for a second time and has brought forward the meeting from mid-November to early-November.

Optimists may see these positive moves by the junta as genuine efforts to move the country forward along its faltering “Roadmap to Democracy”. However most pragmatists will acknowledge that it is all probably window dressing designed to placate the international community until all memory of the protests and shootings die down.

Whether Prof Gambari’s valiant efforts will succeed in bringing about a transition to democracy is anyone’s guess. However, one thing is clear: Neither Prof Gambari, any other party, country nor regional grouping will be able to bring about lasting change for the better in Burma on their own.

The only way to get the generals to stand down and relinquish power to a democratically elected government is for a co-ordinated, carrot-and-stick approach to be used on them by all the influential stakeholders. These stakeholders include Burma’s top trading partners, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the United Nations (UN), the US and European Union (EU); non-government organisations (NGOs) within and outside Burma, the media, and most importantly, the people of Burma themselves.

The Stakeholders and their Leverage

The UN is currently playing a leading role in negotiating with the junta. Since it appears that the generals trust the UN, and in particular Prof Gambari, more than even its ASEAN neighbours, the weight of the world’s support should be thrown behind the efforts of Prof Gambari.

Burma‘s top trading partners are China, Thailand, Singapore, India, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea. Together, these seven countries are responsible for a whopping 75.1 per cent of Myanmar‘s total trade with the outside world This figure excludes Burma‘s massive black market trade with them. Since money talks, these countries together have a huge amount of leverage over the junta.

Unfortunately, most of them have so far not done much more than shrug their shoulders and claim there is nothing much they can do to effect change in the country. Each of them refuses to impose economic sanctions on Burma, because of business interests, but also because they know that withdrawing from the country will just leave a vacuum that will be gladly filled by their rivals.

It is key, therefore, for these top trading partners to closely coordinate their responses to the junta. To his great credit, UN envoy Gambari has been touring the region, meeting the leaders of each of these countries to get them behind the UN effort, and ostensibly to get them to sing the same tune to the generals.

However these trading partners’ response must go beyond just talk. These countries must stop their sales of weapons to the junta, whose only use for them is to attack its own civilians. They need to warn the junta that a lack of progress on the Roadmap to Democracy will have dire consequences on their trade relations. The option for targeted trade sanctions should not be taken off the table.

ASEAN has lent tremendous moral legitimacy to the junta since admitting it into its fold in 1997. The merits of that decision 10 years ago are still a subject of debate. However, now that Burma is already in the ASEAN family, it is time for ASEAN to take full advantage of goodwill generated by its “constructive engagement” to pressure the generals to change for the better.

Burma owes ASEAN a lot for the cover and heat the grouping has taken in the international arena on its behalf.

If it continues its recalcitrant attitude, ASEAN should threaten suspension or expulsion. It is unfortunate, therefore, that Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said recently that Burma will never be suspended from ASEAN. That negates much of negotiating power ASEAN has over the Burmese junta.

The US and EU have imposed economic sanctions on Burma for many years already. While these do not appear to have had the desired effect, if sanctions by these two economic giants had not been imposed, the junta might be even richer and more powerful now. However, piling on more sanctions is unlikely to move the generals very much — they have already found alternative sources of income. What would have an effect would be for the US and EU to offer to ease sanctions in return for tangible progress in democratization.

The media, which include the major news networks, bloggers and groups like the Democratic Voice of Burma, serves as the voice of the Burmese people. Their reports on what is happening in the country serve to galvanize the world to take notice of the tragedies that take place there. In the latest round of violence, the Internet played a vital role in disseminating information.

However, the international outrage over the violence will die down quickly if the media stops reporting human rights abuses committed by the military. As a result, pressure on the UN, ASEAN and individual governments to push for reform in Burma may dissipate. The media therefore has a moral responsibility to keep the world’s focus on Burma.

NGOs play a big part in investigating and highlighting the human rights abuses in the country. Without their reports, the media will have much less substance to tell the world about.

Finally and most importantly, the people of Burma must be empowered to fight this battle, which is mainly their own. Responsible opposition groups, like the National League for Democracy, should be given assistance and training to govern the country when the right time arises. It is no point ridding the country of the hated military government, only to have it break out in Iraqi-style civil war.

Therefore any efforts to dislodge the military go hand-in-hand with efforts to bring about reconciliation between the majority Burmans with minority tribes like the Karen, Chin and Kachin. Only then will it be safe to remove the iron fist of the military and let the people of Burma govern themselves.

The people of Burma have suffered for 45 years under a brutal and economically incompetent military regime. According to the UN, the country’s estimated gross domestic product is less than half that of Cambodia. One in three children under five are malnourished and less than half of children complete primary education. The recent protests have garnered unprecedented attention on Burma. The world must not miss this window of opportunity to help bring about meaningful improvements to the lives of millions of ordinary Burmese citizens.

The time for everyone to act is now.



7 Responses to “Co-ordinated, carrot-and-stick approach needed for Burma”

  1. macabresg said

    “In the latest round of violence, the Internet played a vital role in disseminating information.”

    I agree on this. As long as the media, including the blogosphere, continues to act as a check on the junta, Burma still has hopes.

  2. at82 said

    the monks are back!

  3. To get the generals to give up power is useless. The best is to ask them to appoint a president without political power, whose main duty is to meditate and eat vegetarian food. Meditation is mine in .

  4. […] Burmese Protests – The Online Citizen: Co-ordinated, carrot-and-stick approach needed for Burma […]

  5. Myo Myint Maung said

    First and foremost, I agree that it’s mainly the battle of the people of Burma to topple the military dictatorship. It’s the most important duty of the Burmese to help save Burma. In the process of bringing positive changes to Burma, support from the international community and various stakeholders are essential indeed.

    Thanks a lot for posting this insightful article!

  6. blackshirt said

    A belated related news:

    Shocking email sent by son of Burma’s wealthiest tycoon

    WHILE BURMA’S WEALTHIEST tycoon, Tay Za, tries to protect his millions from US-led efforts to destroy his business empire, his 19-year-old son Htet Tay Za is living it up in Singapore and has sent an arrogant email to friends – accompanied by photos of him partying with pretty girls – saying: “US bans us. We’re still fucking cool in Singapore.”

    The email, which is believed to be genuine, continues: “We’re sitting on the whole Burmese GDP. We’ve got timber, gems and gas to be sold to other countries like Singapore, China, India and Russia.

    “My brother is rocking on his red brand-new Lamborghini with hot sexy Western chicks… and I need another Ferrari to rock on.”

    A former schoolfriend said: “The email seems to be genuine. That’s his style. He’s an arrogant bastard. The pictures of him partying are certainly genuine and recent.”

    Htet Tay Za attends one of Singapore’s most expensive schools, the United World College of South East Asia, but it’s not clear whether his famous father will be able to afford the fees much longer as sanctions on Burma’s business leaders begin to bite.

    Tay Za’s airline, Bagan Air, is reported to be in deep trouble. Local Burmese are boycotting its services because of Tay Za’s close links with the hated junta.


    Posted on 29 Oct 2007.

  7. infoseeker said

    Related to the current ASEAN Meeting here.

    Singapore Police Force News Release:
    Area around the key event venues gazetted as a protected area/ places under the Protected Areas and Protected Places Act


    As part of the security measures for the ASEAN summit, Police have gazetted the premises of Shangri-la, Raffles City Convention Center (RCCC), and Asian Civilisation Museum (ACM), as well as 500 metres of the perimeter surrounding these places and the Istana, as Protected Areas under the Protected Areas and Protected Places Act. This is similar to arrangements made at the recent APEC Australia 2007, and at the WTO in Hong Kong 2005. Such a security zone would allow police to conduct checks on persons found within the zone, and order persons found therein to leave the security zone if they pose a security threat to the ASEAN Summit.

    Protected Areas and Protected Places Act

    Under point #9:

    Special powers in protected areas and protected places.
    9. Any person who attempts to enter or who is in a protected area or a protected place and who fails to stop after being challenged 3 times by an authorised officer to do so may be arrested by force, which force may, if necessary to effect the arrest, extend to the voluntary causing of death.

    The question is in the “arrangements made at the recent APEC Australia 2007, and at the WTO in Hong Kong 2005”, were these venues of these two meetings come under any laws that have the effect of having to “extend to the voluntary causing of death“.

    Why this point was not brought up to warn people that in Protected Areas, police can exercise powers that may cause death? I guess that the presence of some important participants in this meeting may have triggered this use of “Protected Areas and Protected Places Act”. Usually, army camps and certain state institutions are given the “protected areas” status.

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