Friday, July 10, 2009

Is it time for the West to open up to Burma?

Years of international condemnation, economic sanctions and diplomatic machinations have done nothing to dilute the Burmese military's grip on power.

So is it time for Britain, the US, Australia and the EU to follow the rather more pragmatic lead of Russia, China, India and Singapore and deal with Burma as if it were any other country, albeit with a government that you don't much admire?

In a very interesting article, Nicholas Farrelly, an Australian academic and author of the New Mandala blog, argues that it is indeed time for the international community to face up to the reality of entrenched military government in Burma.

Given how strong the position of the Tatmadaw (armed forces) in Burma, there seems to be little point in continuing to pursue the illusory aim of regime change.

Rather, we need to come to terms with how the generals actually run the country. Once you have accepted that getting rid of the junta is not a particularly practicable foreign policy goal, the next logical step seems to be greater engagement with Burma.

The old narrative that pitted evil crazy-eyed generals against saint-like Aung San Suu Kyi and her army of democratic martyrs - beloved by journalists and celebrities without a cause in the West - needs to be thrown out once and for all.

As Mary P. Callahan explained in her seminal work on the subject, Burma is not like some African or Latin American Banana Republic where greedy, power-hungry generals seize control in a coup designed to help them line their pockets. The strength of the military government is the result of the way Burma was forged as a nation, through a succession of internal and external wars.

The West needs to accept the junta and deal with Burma as with any other country run by an objectionable government, such as Belarus or Fiji.


  1. I spoke to some folks about going to Burma. Lots of Amnesty supporters are against it but the bottom line is that tourism=revenue=some poor soul getting a bowl of rice. If there is a western boycott it is the poorest who starve, not the richest.

  2. When does isolation ever succeed as a way to improve the prospects of a country and its people?

    Where are you based by the way?

  3. I find it peculiar that certain issues seem to be selected as good causes to demonise by the U2 set while others which are equally "democratically challenged" are ignored or feted. One has to compare the attitude to Australia and South Africa in recent history both of which had white only policies. Or perhaps the difference in attitude to say Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran is actually more democratic than Singapore yet is constantly demonised in the west while the Saudis perhaps the least democratic rich country in the world get to chop and stone anyone they please. Pick any country in Africa which doesnt have Oil and the people can be raped and murdered at will by their military without any complaint from Bono or the British Government. Despite complaining, China trades and invests with its deep political enemies in Taiwan while the USA starves Cubans and North Koreans .

    I've been to Myanmar and its another beautiful chaotic south asian country. It needs trade and investment for its beautiful charming people. It doesnt need more western hypocrisy and oil politics.

    Now let me get back to my sharks fin soup...

  4. I agree with you that there is very little obvious rationale behind why certain nations become "boo" countries in the West while others become "hooray" countries.

    In the case of Burma, it's the poster-girl qualities of Aung San Suu Kyi that have attracted the interest of so many Bono/Vivienne Westwood types as well as Western governments.