Posted: October 18th, 2011 | Author: Benjamin | Filed under: Corruption, Government, International Relations, Politics
A few months ago Burma was considered one of the most corruptive country in the world, vigorously violating human rights to protect its power, and suppressing any threat to it. Considering the recent events Burma leaves puzzled minds around the world. Global curiosity circulates about a nation between two giant neighbors, China and India, apparently reforming the country to awaken its economy.
Burma, a nation trying to balance influence of neighboring China and India also houses the longest civil war in the world. It is characterized by ethnic divisions since its colony era. After Britain left 1948, the new established democratic republic survived only 14 years. By 1962 the democracy ended by the first coup d’état, which was one of many. With a one party system Burma controls media, military, transport, banks, schools and more. With Burma retreating into authoritarianism they found more cooperation in China while India rejected them. Increasing unrests over economic mismanagement and political oppression spread among the people in 1988, resulting in another coup d’état that “restored” order using force that killed thousands of demonstrators. Then ruling government surprisingly held 1990 first free elections after 30 years. The National League for Democracy (NLD) won 80 percent of the votes. Shortly afterwards the results were annulled and government refused to step down. As a result NLD was banned and their leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi put under house arrest until 2011. The ASEAN community admitted Burma in 1997. With uprising anti-regime protests in late 2007 government announced elections by 07th of November 2010. The most feared party NLD of 1990 was declared illegal briefly before the elections and hence failed to register. The military backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by Thein Sein, won with 80 percent. Pro-democracy movements question the validity of the elections until today.
First maneuvers into today’s direction were undertaken by the elections of 2010. Secondly, two days after elections government ended the house arrest of the NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her ability to move freely around the country. ASEAN immediately tried to support the progress beginning 2011 by calling on the international community to end the boycott of Burma since “Democracy has returned to Burma”. Sein’s next coup was to suspend a USD 3.6 bln Chinese operated Myitsone hydropower dam that had no real benefits for Burma but threatening a whole eco-system and forcing over 10,000 people to move. This move by Sein is said to be inevitable due to threatening protests among artists, academics and even politicians. Beijing was not informed before it went public. The decision is until now not legally assured. Contradicting, six more dams operated by China continue in the making process.
With Western sanctions Burma’s economy is throttled and depends on China for loans, infrastructure projects and support of weapons. By 1990 key global player India realized that China’s populous south increasingly nurtured its hunger for resources in South East Asia and decided to compete instead of sanctioning. Despite the interest of India, Burma only allowed limited influence of India compared to China, until recently. So far China enjoyed a monopolistic position in Burma paying bottom-dollar. By releasing political prisoners, lifting media restrictions and Sein’s visits to democratic India, Burma aims on increasing competition for better deals on their resources.
Proven in history, the Burmese regime became increasingly skilled at holding on to power. The regime should not be underestimated since they are fully aware of their resource advantage. Currently, the ASEAN community still considers on whether Burma shall be chair in 2014 or not. There is enormous pressure since a withdrawal of the position would have immense impact on the community. With Burma feeling neglected, they might reconsider the pro-democratic movement and the membership itself.
Pro-democratic, and NLD party leader, Aung San Suu Kyi herself did not call for sanctions to be lifted yet. Many political prisoners remain languishing in prison. The regime continues internal fights on a daily basis against armed minorities instead of dialogue or decreasing their attacks. Sein’s efforts for democracy remain contradicting and make it difficult for the international community to react. However, Japan’s aid is already back on track and the US considers to reduce sanctions and appreciates development.
Tensions between India and China need to be carefully watched since their interests do not only clash on Burmese ground but currently also Vietnam. Burma needs to be careful with their wishes for competition. Furthermore, if pro-democratic movement is seriously intended, clear signals need to be communicated to the international community. For now, the new directions of awakened Burma and ongoing diplomatic negotiations are interesting to observe.