Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Home Alone in Burma/Myanmar: Trade as a Lever for Change

Quotes of the Day:

"If you are Home Alone, even kids get creative, although we prefer being inla-la land to dealing with realities."

- From Home Alone in Burma/Myanmar

"Notwithstanding the condemnation by the UN Human Rights Commission, there is little chance of China allowing change to emerge through the United Nations. The quickest way to restore democracy in Myanmar would be for the United States and the EU to impose sanctions on China."

- Daryl Martyris, Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, International Herald Tribune

This FBC Posting contains:

1). Published IHT Letters in Response to Jody Williams' well-meaning, but naiveand misguided "It's the Burmese who are asking for sanctions"
3). Dhaka to Formulate Strategy on Gas Pipeline on May 164). Unocal’s Historic Burma Settlement

Compiler's Remark:
Home Alone in Burma/Myanmar
Zarni, Free Burma Coalition

As an activist, I supported the sanctions and isolation of Burma, having drawnmy own personal inspiration from the victorious African National Congress'strategy of combining trade and consumer boycott with serious political and military and/ or underground strategy toward dismantling the apartheid regime in Pretoia.

For 17 years, I had waited for the proverbial tipping point, which never came. The anticipated scenario was a clean transfer of power, a model transitionwhich we could hold up to the world as a model of change because we the Burmese willed it. We Burmese would be able to stand tall. We may be poor, but we would - and could - export our model of social change, fashioned in the fine tradition of spiritual revolutions of the by-gone eras, or so we all fancied.

Well, that was not to be.

The course of historical events in our country over the past 17-years has turned out to be radically different from that which unfolded in South Africa or Gandhi's India or U Aung San's nationalist era.

A cursory look at Burma and South Africa will suffice.

Neighboring Namibia was allowing the ANC brothers led by its military leaderMandela to set up training camps on its territories or slipping arms into ANC areas. In sharp contrast, all of my country's neighbors, specifically Thailand, want to either push the flow of refugees back onto Burmese soil or round them up in unhealthy border camps where the refugees and opposition members wait to get shipped to third countries for resettlement where their physical labor will be most needed.

And then there was Pan-African solidarity, in both words and deeds. The fight against apartheid in South Africa was about as clear-cut an issue as you couldget. It was the UN certified case of 'crimes against humanity', a white minority keeping the black majority in economic, culturaland political bondage, so to speak.

Of course, there is Pan-Asian solidarity of sort for Myanmar. But the problem is the solidarity is among the governments of Asia, uniting against what theyconsider the characteristic, Kiplingnisque hypocrisy and double-standards ofthe West, invoking such "laughable" matters as universal values of human rightsand democracy, which the West itself would - and does - undermine, if doing so serves its interests.

Additionally, such strategically important countries - Read countries that matter most to Burma's survival - as China, India, Thailand, Bangladesh and the entire bloc of ASEAN share a similar strategic outlook: Asians have their own national and regional interests which must not be tempered with, simply because the Burmese, both the regime and the opposition, couldn't get their act together.

Who can blame these Asian solidarity governments for taking this 'pro-who-ever-is-in-power' approach to our own internal nightmare, as the former pursue their own national interests or act on their own internal foreign policy logic-s?

We are in 'real world'. And you may consider dropping it, if you were expecting to find Human Rights and Democracy 101 here.

It appears that we Burmese know what we want categorically and which leader wewant to crown. The tragedy is we don't seem to know how to get there.

As a matter of fact, our culture doesn't teach us to admit that we are stuck and that we don't know how to proceed. This social psychological burden which compels us not to admit we don't know or we are stuck increases proportionately as one's political and social rank goes up. That's why, most Burmese teachers- or bosses - typically act wise or deep when they are actually lost.

Try applying this cultural trait to our country's stalemate. You get my drift here.

Of course, saving face - apparently not necessarily the country and itsinhabitants - is the most important thing. Few free themselves from this cultural bondage, apparently.

Absent creative or reasonable ways to save face, we prefer to live in a la-la land where the forces of Good in the world,in a story book fashion, unite in solidarity with us, the Burmese, to fight and defeat the forces of Evil.

Well, that's as good a bed-time story as the one I heard from my now deceased grandma. I remember getting excited and thrilled when the Burmese Buddhistequivalent of Saturn called 'Mar-nat' was defeated by our knight in shining armours, the guy named Gotama, or Lord, if you are reverential, pious type.

The moral lesson of the story is the Good Guys always win and all the good guys in the world will gang up on the Bay Guys, or 'Evil-Doers' in President Bush' new phraseology.

But that's as far as the story goes.

The real world is a different matter.

It does not necessarilyfollow childhood fantacy scripts which have long been embedded in our mental templates.

Some of us have gotten over this Bushian Good-Guy-Bad-Guy infantileness.

I must admit I am a bit slow when it comes to matters of thinking andstrategizing. So it took me about 14 years to realize that neither the Good-versus-the-Bad scenario nor the prefered models of social change in otherpeople's lands - such as the Philippine's 'People Power' or Havel's VelvetyRevolution or the ANC's 'Mandela' model - really apply when it comes to pushing for social change in Burma.

On the other hand, we can't simply will social change in our country because everyone there including some members of the ruling junta wants it, not tomention the *economically* struggling masses or those in Burma's minority areas. It would be unfair of us to put the burden of delivering our collective freedoms on the National League for Democracy squarely. It obviously can't do the job alone. It can't even freeits own party leaders. It is being allowed by the ruling SPDC to exist only in name. What is left of this revolutionary party is led by leaders who are either incapacitated categorically or the octagenarians whose time has long gone, and yet who stick around in the party's only functiong office in Rangoon, forHeaven-knows-what-reasons.

So, we are all really Home Alone.

This got 'me and my friends' - really kids who are homesick and miss our mamasand papas back home, compared to our octagenarian (sp?) leaders in Yangon - to think of finding other means of helping our leaders in jail or under housearrest.

Don't be silly. Who doesn't want to please their leaders?

Even in hislast days in his bunker in the Chancellery between Friedrichstrasse andPotsdamer Platz (Friedrich Street and Potsdam Place, really), "Yes, My Fuher"was the most often heard phrase uttered by the grown-ups, terrified of speaking truth to 'charming and polite' Uncle Hitler.

There, in our search for some levers of change, we have stumbled on the potential power of trade.

During a lunch in Berlin last year, a German friend who follows events inBurma/Myanmar closely looked straight into my eyes and said, "You know I am a stupid Marxist. I think the pro-sanctions policies are grossly underestimating or writing off the power of trade and commerce to bring about change."

A few days ago I re-read "The Fashioning of Leviathan: The Beginnings ofBritish Rule in Burma" by John S. Furnivall, the man who did so much to enlivenBurma's intellectual life, albeit in a paternalistic fashion reflective of his time in his adopted country. The little book is about how a new, impersonal form of administration was institutionalized following the British acquisition of the Tenasserim Coastal region as the result of Britain's military conquest over the Court of Ava in 1826. This change in Tenassarim came about because the logic and nature of trading demanded that some kind of regularities and predictability be in place. For better or for worse - for the Burmese - the rule of law replaced the rule of traditions and whimsical ways ofconducting affairs of a community,a territory or trade and commerce with foreigners. (That's not to say, we Burmese didn't have any rule at all - but to say that the ones we had were not conducive to trade or establishment of impersonal bureaucracy).

I can imagine the late Mr. Furnivall whom I never had the honor of meeting chiming in on our Berlin conversation, with a slight modification of that endearing act of self-mockery. "Speaking as a stupid Fabian socialist, I must concur with our German friend here."

I am sure Mr. Furnivall who knew more about Burma's institutional development than would anyone of us, Burmese kids, simply shake his head, if only he could know that Western investors would be replaced by those from China, India,Malaysia, Thailand, etc., countries not known for rule of law, transparency or accountability, emblematic of democratic governance. It is hard to imagine Petrinas of Malaysia or Chinese state-owned oil companies being sued in their own countries, let alone bother to settle claims by lawyers who claim to represent the natives.

Surely, trade alone won't do the job of building up a democratic system ofgovernment. It is not its job, or stated, or even implicit, mission. But rule of law set up to facilitate big businesses or even big oil companies will be a significant, if only by-default, step in the right direction, and incomparably superior to the rule of man or woman and their whims.

Well, if you are Home Alone, even kids get creative, although we prefer being in la-la land to dealing with realities.

Jody Williams's commentary "It's the Burmese who are asking for sanctions" (Views, April 26) neglected to mention the critical role that China's government plays in propping up the military junta in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. U.S. and European Union sanctions are largely ineffective, since Myanmar's trade with China dwarfs its trade with the West.

Notwithstanding the condemnation by the UN Human Rights Commission, there is little chance of China allowing change to emerge through the United Nations. The quickest way to restore democracy in Myanmar would be for the United States and the EU to impose sanctions on China.

Daryl Martyris, Chesapeake Beach, Maryland

It is a mistake to imagine that the present military regime of Myanmar, which is very strongly entrenched and can count on substantial moral and material support from China, as well as a varying degree of tacit support from its neighbors, can be dislodged by economic or political sanctions.

The model here is Cuba: Would Fidel Castro have survived this long if it were not for the persistent sanctions applied on Havana by successive U.S. administrations?

Change in Myanmar is most likely to be brought about not by the efforts of the admirable Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters, but by dissension among the generals. This can best be achieved by a cautious increase in trade and tourism, which will encourage the more wily among them to opt for some semblance of democratic governance.

If it is true that this would attract massive popular support, as we hope would be the case, that would in due course pave the way for the liberation of the beautiful country and its wonderfully unspoiled and generous-hearted people.

William Harding, Pezuls, France



Surajit Khaund Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)May 2, 2005

In a bid to give a boost to the growing Indo-Burma trade, the ManipurGovernment in the North East India has inaugurated a trade centre atPorompot, near the state capital of Imphal.

The nine - million dollar trade centre was inaugurated by Manipur chiefMinister, Okram Ibobi Singh, at a special function on Saturday last. The centre will have an information centre besides a wide range of items for exportto Burma and other South - East Asain countries.

While inugurating the centre, Mr.Singh said the new trade centre was aimed atboosting the Indo-Burma trade, which had been gaining momentum over the years.

"We should explore trade in Burmese market by way of involving the localtraders", he said. In this context, he informed that his government had beenencouraging the local traders to explore the Burmese market. " But there shouldnot be one sided trade, Myanmar should also reciprocate in this regard", headded.

The chief minister said he would soon request the Indian Commerce Ministry toestablish an international trade centre at Moreh, bordering Burma, to gear uptrade between the countries. " The Indian Government should also remove allrestrictions so that Burmese traders can visit our areas without any fear", headded.

Manipur Commerce Minister, Mangi Singh, who was present at the function,emphasised on incresing trade volume between India and Myanmar.

"The Indo-Burma trade has solved unemployment problem to some extent, and so,we must encourage it ", he said. Mangi Singh also appealed to the IndianCommerce Ministry to review the Indo-Myanmar trade pact, which was signed in1994.


Dhaka to Formulate Strategy on Gas Pipeline on May 16

By Siddique IslamMizzima News (www.mizzima.com) May 3, 2005

Dhaka: Dhaka will hold an inter-ministerial meeting on May 16 for a strategy toget implemented its conditions on the proposed tri-nation gas pipeline fromBurma to India through Bangladesh.

The Commerce Minister, the State Minister for Energy Power and MineralResources the Foreign Secretary and other high government officials will takepart in the meeting, already okayed by Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia,official sources said.

State Minister for Energy, Power and Mineral Resources, AKM Mosharraf Hossain,is hopeful about a successful outcome of the meeting.

After finalising the strategy, Bangladesh is expected to invite Indian Oil andPetroleum Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, for a discussion on the tri-nation gaspipeline project.

At a meeting of Energy Ministers of the three countries in Yangon on January12-13, Bangladesh agreed in principle to allow its territory for laying of thepipeline, provided Delhi took steps to reduce the trade gap between India andBangladesh and allowed Dhaka trade corridors and supply of electricity from Bhutan and Nepal.

A technical committee, comprising experts from the three countries, prepared adraft MOU on February 24-25 in Yangon where Bangladesh again made its positionclear to India and Burma. India responded by asking Bangladesh to preparespecific proposals.

Burma had earlier proposed Bangladesh to sit for the MOU signing meeting onApril 20-21, but Dhaka deferred the date awaiting the issues to be settled withNew Delhi.

The proposed gas pipeline will start from Arakan to enter the North-East Indianstates of Mizoram and Tripura. It will penetrate Bangladesh throughBrahmanbaria area and run to the Rajshahi border to reach Kolkata in India.

The 181-mile pipeline will cost one billion dollars and the Bangladesh part ofthe construction will involve 350 million dollars. Bangladesh is expected toearn 125 million dollars a year as transit fee from both the countries, sourcesestimated.


Unocal’s Historic Burma Settlement

Also in The Nation this week, a startling connection between the ChevronTexacobuyout of Unocal and a Burma human rights lawsuit that turned out to be morethan a mere nuisance to the targeted corporation. Just two weeks before theUnocal Corporation was bought out, “Unocal had agreed to pay to settle along-running lawsuit charging the oil company with assisting and encouragingthe torture, murder and rape of Burmese villagers by government soldiers sothat Unocal could build a gas pipeline.” The Burmese villagers won “significantmonetary compensation” and money for social development programs benefitingpeople who live in parts of Burma impacted by the Unocal pipeline. The scope ofthe confidential settlement must have been well over $60 million, judging bythe company’s revealing insurance-suit scramble to cover its costs. The crystalclear precedent set in this case is of revolutionary importance – as one of thecase’s human rights lawyers told Daphne Eviatar, “The standard disclaimers thatthey’ve used: that it wasn’t our president physically torturing the villagerswho worked on the pipeline, it was the government, our joint venture partner,doing this—the Unocal case established that they can’t say that anymore.”