Myanmar setting its own pace of change

Updated On: Jun 06, 2006

This week, it has become increasingly clear why ASEAN’s policy on pressuring Myanmar is not going to work.

JapanChina and Russia have declined to support the US push for a UN Security Council resolution demanding political change in Myanmar.  The British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett’s condemnation of the Myanmar government’s decision to extend the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi is unlikely to change anything. More significantly, India has also expressed its reluctance to join its ASEAN neighbours in pressurising Myanmar.

This week, India has come up with one of the strongest statement on its policy towards Myanmar thus far. Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said in response to questions on whether India could help to promote democracy in Myanmar, “Our basic principle is to live in peaceful coexistence and we do not believe in exporting ideologies.”

To a certain extent, Indian policy is not surprising. On Friday, Rajeev Agrawal, Joint Secretary (North East) in the Indian Home Ministry praised the Myanmarmilitary for being responsive to India’s security concerns. The local army commanders of both India and Myanmar meet regularly to coordinate their action against Indian insurgents on both sides of the borders. India needs Myanmar’s help to reduce illegal trade in arms and drug and is unlikely to want to risk upsetting the military junta.  

India is not the only one trying to maintain a good relationship with Myanmar. An editorial in The Nation (Thailand) has criticised the inconsistent Japanese foreign policy in Southeast Asia particularly on Myanmar. Despite being the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Myanmar, the Japanese have not dared put any pressure onMyanmar to change for fears of losing influence to India and China.

As the current President of the UN Security Council, Japan could have played a more constructive role in promoting consensus over what to do with Myanmar. Instead, the Japanese Ambassador to the UN, Kenzo Oshima has said that Japan was not in favour of “going further” beyond the recent closed-door briefing provided by the UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari.

Without the support of ChinaJapan and India, ASEAN’s efforts to pressurise Myanmar towards greater reforms is doomed. With international disagreement over what to do with MyanmarMyanmar continues to develop stronger international economic ties. Xinhua has reported that Myanmar’s foreign trade has reached a record high in 17 years. It was also said that Myanmar has set a target of US$1.5 billions worth of bilateral trade with China; US$1 billion with India and US$50 million with Vietnam. On Friday, it was also reported that Malaysian businesses would be investing in a wood-based industrial zone in Myanmar.

The Myanmar military regime looks set to survive for a longer while yet, and sets its own pace of change.


US Official Seeks Japan Role to Lead Myanmar To Democracy (Jiji Press Ticker Service, 4 June 2006

Myanmar’s Foreign Trade Hits New Record High in 17 Years (Xinhua General Service, 4 June 2006)

India Will not Export Its Ideology to Neighbours, Says Pranab Mukherjee (Hindustan Times, 3 June 2006)

Japan’s Backlustre Policy on Burma (The Nation, 3 June 2006)

IndiaMyanmar to Jointly Fight Border Insurgency (Hindustan2 June 2006)

Malaysian Entrepreneurs Seeking for Industrial Zone in Myanmar (Xinhua General News Service 2 June 2006)

US to Pursue UN Resolution To Pressure Burma (Financial Times, 1 June 2006)

Britain Condemns Suu Kyi’s House Arrest (Indo-Asian News Service, 1 June 2006) 

US To Seek UN Security Council Draft Resolution on Myanmar (Japan Economic Newswire, 1 June 2006)