G Parthasarathy's blog

Myanmar rolls out red carpet for India

For more than 25 years, the US backed the regime of Burma's military dictator General New Win, whose main contribution to relations with India was his expulsion of more than half a million Indians from the country. When the new military junta took charge in 1988, the Americans suddenly reinvented the virtues of democracy in that country. But democracy cannot be imported. It has to be nurtured from within.
Therefore, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao decided that given their history, the Burmese would evolve their own ways towards more representative Government and that Indian long-term interests were best served if the military regime was constructively engaged. India's pragmatic approach has paid significant dividends.
DEMOCRACY IN MYANMAR
Myanmar and India share a 1640-kilometre land border. Myanmar has cooperated constructively in dealing with cross-border insurgencies afflicting some of India's north-eastern states. It has respected Indian security concerns arising from its increasing military cooperation with China.
It established that reports on its providing facilities to China in the Cocos Islands were baseless. Moreover, it assuaged Indian concerns on providing base facilities for the Chinese Navy in the port of Sittwe, by agreeing that India would construct this port and build a corridor, giving its landlocked north-eastern states access to the sea. Thousands of “Stateless” people of Indian origin have been assured Myanmar citizenship.
The recent visit of Myanmar's President Thein Sein to India came just after he had taken a series of measures, which have been widely welcomed. These included the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and commencement of dialogue with her.
On October 12, 6359 detainees were released. They included notables such as Ashin Gambara from the All Burma Monks Association, who led the street protests in 2007, comedian and social activist Zarganar, who criticized the Government's response to the travails of victims of Cyclone Nargis; and the Head of the Shan State Army insurgent group.
President Thein Sein signed preliminary peace agreements with the two eastern armed groups. Non-Burmese ethnic groups now have a say in their own future, after the recent elections enabled them, for the first time in history, to elect their representatives to the newly-established Assemblies for States and Regions in the country.
ISSUES WITH CHINA
Yielding to public protests, the Government halted construction in the Kachin State of a $ 3.6-billion hydro-electric project, being built with Chinese assistance.
Behind the seeming bonhomie, rifts are emerging in the Sino-Myanmar relationship. In the past two decades, millions of Chinese have moved into Myanmar from neighbouring Yunnan and other Chinese Provinces.
They now own virtually all the choice properties, pushing the Burmese to the outskirts, in cities such as Mandalay. Ethnic Chinese now control major businesses across Myanmar, and swarms of Chinese workers dominate the construction of Chinese aided projects. Networks of Chinese-built roads in Myanmar appear designed to give China access to the Bay of Bengal, facilitating the movement of goods, oil and gas, bypassing the Straits of Malacca.
The situation on Myanmar's borders with China is a matter of concern within Myanmar. In the Wa Hills, tribesmen of Chinese origin are actively involved in gun-running, including to Indian insurgent groups. Tensions along the border further north emerged, when the powerful Mandarin-speaking militia of the Kokang tribe refused to become part of the Myanmar Government's border militia. In the ensuing military clampdown, more than 20,000 Kokang tribesmen fled across the border into China.
Alarmed at the prospect of a similar clampdown on the Wa Army, Chinese leaders, including future President Xi Jinping and Premier Wen Jiabao, visited Yangon last year, with promises of further aid.
The situation was defused, but resentment against the millions of Chinese settlers and their Wa and Kokang compatriots can blow up, as they did in 1967.
TIES IN ASIAN REGION
Myanmar's rulers have no illusions that India can replace China as a partner for rapid growth of their infrastructure. India's performance record in Myanmar is disappointing. Work on the much-touted Kaladan corridor, linking Myanmar to the sea, proceeds at a snail's pace. After ‘consideration' for more than 15 years, India hasn't even finalised a Project Report for a 1500 MW hydro-electric project across the Chindwin River, adjacent to Manipur. Mr Sein is naturally looking for new tie-ups with more dynamic countries such as Japan, which has described recent developments in Myanmar as a good “step towards democratisation and national reconciliation”. Japan has agreed to resume economic and cultural exchanges, and its aid programme, on hold now for two decades. Indonesia has reacted similarly. Western sanctions are, however, unlikely to end in the immediate future.
There now seems to be a clear divide between Asia and the Western realm, on how to approach relations with Myanmar. It will take around a decade before Myanmar enjoys democratic freedoms akin to those prevalent in neighbouring Indonesia.
Comparing his country's relations with India and China, a senior Myanmar leader once remarked: “While we may have to go to Beijing for arms, as devout Buddhists, we have to go to Bodh Gaya for salvation.”

For more than 25 years, the US backed the regime of Burma's military dictator General New Win, whose main contribution to relations with India was his expulsion of more than half a million Indians from the country. When the new military junta took charge in 1988, the Americans suddenly reinvented the virtues of democracy in that country. But democracy cannot be imported. It has to be nurtured from within. Read more »

Winds of Change in Myanmar

WESTERN attempts to impose “regime change” in West Asia have had unexpected results. The American invasion of Iraq not only exacerbated Shia-Sunni tensions within the country, but also produced a virtual Shia-dominated Iraq-Iran condominium, challenging the regional supremacy of neighbouring Sunni sheikhdoms, led by Saudi Arabia. It remains to be seen whether the ouster of Col Muammar Gaddafi in Libya will convert that country into a haven of secular democracy and tribal harmony. Libya’s new rulers are already talking of imposing Sharia law. Democracy cannot be imported. It has to emerge and to be nurtured from within.
Nearer India, the Americans have supported military or military-backed regimes in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Thailand for decades. For over 25 years, they backed the regime of Myanmar’s military dictator Gen New Win, whose main contribution to relations with India was his expulsion of over half a million Indians from the country. When the new military junta took over in 1988, the Americans suddenly rediscovered the virtues of democracy in that country.
Prime Minister Narasimha Rao decided that given their history, the Burmese would evolve their own ways towards a more representative government and that India’s long-term interests were best served if the military regime was constructively engaged, adopting policies akin to those of its ASEAN neighbours. India’s pragmatic approach has paid significant dividends. Myanmar and India share a 1640-km land border. Myanmar has cooperated constructively in dealing with cross-border insurgencies afflicting some of India’s north-eastern states. It has respected Indian security concerns arising from its increasing military cooperation with China.
It conclusively established that reports about it providing facilities to China in its Cocos Islands were baseless. Moreover, it assuaged Indian concerns about providing base facilities for the Chinese Navy in the port of Sittwe by agreeing that India would construct this port and build a corridor giving its landlocked north-eastern states access to the sea. Thousands of “Stateless” people of Indian origin have been assured Myanmar citizenship.
The recent visit of Myanmar’s President Thein Sein to India came just after he had taken a series of widely welcomed measures. These included the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the commencement of dialogue with her. On October 12, as many as 6,359 detainees were released. They included such notables as Ashin Gambara from the All-Burma Monks Association, who led the street protests in 2007; comedian and social activist Zarganar, who criticised the government’s response to the travails of victims of Cyclone Nargis; and the head of the Shan State Army insurgent group. President Thein Sein signed preliminary peace agreements with the two eastern armed groups. Non-Burmese ethnic groups now have a say in their own future after the recent elections enabled them for the first time in history to elect their representatives to the newly established Assemblies for States and Regions in the country.
Yielding to public protests, the government halted construction in the Kachin state of a $3.6 billion hydroelectric project, being built with Chinese assistance. Behind the seeming bonhomie, rifts are emerging in the Sino- Myanmar relationship. In the past two decades, millions of Chinese have moved into Myanmar from neighbouring Yunnan and other Chinese provinces. They now own virtually all the choice properties, pushing the Burmese to the outskirts in cities like Mandalay. Ethnic Chinese now control major businesses across Myanmar and swarms of Chinese workers dominate the construction of Chinese-aided projects. Networks of Chinese-built roads in Myanmar appear designed to give China access to the Bay of Bengal, facilitating the movement of goods, oil and gas, bypassing the Straits of Malacca.
The situation on Myanmar’s borders with China is a matter of concern within Myanmar. In the Wa Hills, tribesmen of Chinese origin are actively involved in gun-running, including to Indian insurgent groups. Tensions along the border further north emerged when the powerful Mandarin-speaking militia of the Kokang tribe refused to become part of the Myanmar government’s border militia. In the ensuing military crackdown, over 20,000 Kokang tribesmen fled across the border into China. Alarmed at the prospect of a similar crackdown on the Wa Army, Chinese leaders, including future President Xi Jinping and Premier Wen Jiabao, visited Yangon last year with promises of further aid. The situation was defused, but resentment against the millions of Chinese settlers and their Wa and Kokang compatriots can intensify as it did in 1967.
Myanmar’s rulers have no illusions that India can replace China as a partner for rapid growth of its infrastructure. India’s track record in Myanmar is abysmal. Work on the much-touted Kaladan corridor, linking Myanmar to the sea, proceeds at a snail’s pace. After “consideration” for over 15 years, India has not even finalised a project report for a 1500-MW hydroelectric project across the Chindwin river, adjacent to Manipur. Thein Sein is naturally looking for new tie-ups with more dynamic countries like Japan, which has described recent developments in Myanmar as a positive “step towards democratisation and national reconciliation”.
Japan has agreed to resume economic and cultural exchanges and its aid programme, suspended for two decades. Indonesia has reacted similarly. Western sanctions are, however, unlikely to end in the immediate future. There now seems to be a clear divide between Asia and the Western world on how to approach relations with Myanmar. It will take around a decade before Myanmar enjoys democratic freedoms akin to those prevalent in neighbouring Indonesia.
Comparing his country’s relations with India and China, a senior Myanmar leader once remarked: “While we may have to go to Beijing for arms, as devout Buddhists, we have to go to Bodh Gaya for salvation.” Sadly, the reality is that in Buddhist countries, ranging from Sri Lanka to Thailand and beyond, the main factor that inhibits their devotees from visiting India is what is described as the “primitive” and ‘pathetic” facilities available for pilgrims and tourists, interested in visiting Buddhist heritage and pilgrimage sites.
Across the world, people have commented on the efficiency and precision with which the Formula 1 event was conducted in the National Capital Region, while recalling the inefficiency, mismanagement and corruption that marked the arrangements for the Asian Games. One hopes that New Delhi will draw up a realistic public-private partnership for providing modern amenities, accommodation and infrastructure for tourists and pilgrims visiting Buddhist heritage sites to complement its plans for the development of Nalanda University. Former UN Secretary-General U Thant’s grandson, Thant Myint U, even envisages a situation where “Burma” located at the “New Crossroads of Asia,” becomes the country where “China meets India”. 

WESTERN attempts to impose “regime change” in West Asia have had unexpected results. The American invasion of Iraq not only exacerbated Shia-Sunni tensions within the country, but also produced a virtual Shia-dominated Iraq-Iran condominium, challenging the regional supremacy of neighbouring Sunni sheikhdoms, led by Saudi Arabia. It remains to be seen whether the ouster of Col Muammar Gaddafi in Libya will convert that country into a haven of secular democracy and tribal harmony. Libya’s new rulers are already talking of imposing Sharia law. Democracy cannot be imported. It has to emerge and to be nurtured from within. Read more »

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