November 28, 2011
What Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will ask the Burmese
President, Thein Sein, when she arrives Burma on November 30th.
No doubt, release of political prisoners will come first to her mind.
Then she would insist on speeding up things remaining to complete
the democratic reform.
That is right. But what are they. Mrs. Clinton needs an exact shopping list in hand.
The Burmese will try to impress her team showing their newly built jungle capital,
Nay pyi daw, along with the brand new Assembly of the Union in sessions and
probably, the replica of Shwedagon Pagoda, the country’s most sacred shrine.
She must not be led by distractions, should gain net results from the trip.
Here is a brief homework prepared for Secretary Clinton ready to use in her trip.
So far, Burma has done less in comparison with credits it has won recently.
Aung San Suu Kyi has awarded the biggest one by way of her decision to
re-register her party and stand in the by-election. It is her who has given
generously - not the new Government to her – in return for its promises to
the people and cordiality shown to her as different from Gen. Than Shwe’s days.
Suu Kyi’s cooperation has given the ex-generals the much needed legitimacy
of their political reform named, Roadmap.
There is still nothing solid to say that Burma has moved a good distance.
Here are the facts. No citizen owned independent daily newspaper is allowed to publish yet.
Foreign media is piloted to come in to cover Government occasions.
But the domestic media is still heavily censored. The notorious Press
Scrutiny Board - the one even its own ‘reform-friendly’ boss once
admitted that it should not exist anymore - is still there.
Thein Sein’s recent disclosure made in Bali to the Burmese language media is discouraging.
He categorically rejected the notion of ‘political prisoners’ and hinted no date of their release.
There also is still no fixed date for the by-election which Suu Kyi’s NLD has decided to enter.
The new constitution needs to revise drastically, her declared reason to enter the game.
Worse, the state bureaucracy remains intact. This Socialist era relic is
saturated with military families, notoriously corrupt and deadly predatory to
ordinary citizens. There is no media coverage on due punishments on corrupted
high officials like in China and Vietnam. Because there are no such punishments yet.
Thein Sein, himself ex-General, who wishes his Government to be ‘clean’ and ‘good,’
can do nothing without removing those who are benefiting from the status quo.
Burma’s regime change from above contains too many of continuity within the change.
Ask them to release the remaining prisoners - now. Ask for the early date for the
by-election to enable Suu Kyi enters the legislature. She has picked up the generals’
gauntlet thrown on her table. Technicality is no excuse of delay.
The Civil war is still fighting in the peripheries. Washington should ask the Burmese
Government to unilaterally halt the operations first. The current ‘shooting and talking
simultaneously’ tactics may achieve Government’s military aim. But it is detrimental
to the permanent national reconciliation.
One US Administration official said that the trip is ‘about Burma, not about China.’
Good, but few would buy that. Obama’s speech in the Australian Parliament is still
resonating in the region. The November 18th editorial of the Global Times, thought
to be the mouthpiece of Chinese Communist Party leadership, warned small Asian
states cannot have both the benefits from economic integration with China and
anti-Chinese mindsets espoused by alliance with Washington.
Clinton should put Burma’s China and North Korea connections at the bottom of her list.
Any expert will say Burma is at least 20 years away from any kind of weapon status
the West would care.
The Burmese Government is too opaque on budgetary issues. Defense spending and
expenditure for the new capital construction are said to have special budgets
separated from the national sum and out of public knowledge. Multibillion dollar
mega projects like Chinese hydro power dams are infamous for their big chunks of
brokerage collected by regime cronies.
Clinton’s visit should herald to address these issues before expecting any resumption
of economic and humanitarian assistance. Time has also arrived to realistically set
the policy on sanctions and tell them what is in Washington’s mind about it.
Finally, assuming Aung San Suu Kyi, the dame of Burmese democracy movement,
will be recruited to the Government eventually by somehow, Washington should
seriously reconsider to restore full diplomatic ties with the country to re-accommodate
bilateral relations similar to the pre military era. Mrs. Clinton should discuss about it with
Nay Pyi daw.