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The Forum > Article Comments > A challenge for Myanmar > Comments

A challenge for Myanmar : Comments

By Verghese Mathews, published 18/3/2005

Verghese Mathews argues there are concerns over the assumption by Myanmar to the ASEAN chair.

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The recent history between Myanmar, ASEAN and the EU is complex. A few years back I was asked by a country EU donate my academic services to Myanmar, wherein, I wrote courses for budding exporters to help Myanmar market its produce internationally. I was all set to present a series of CEO workshops in Yangon, except, was prevented at the last minute.

When Myanmar entered ASEAN, against Western counsel to ASEAN, the EU became hostile to the ASEAN situation and pulled its funding of "back door" educational aid programmes. While I gave certain parties, free of charge, the curricula to help in Myanmar (Vietnam and Cambodia), to use should the situation change, the EU afterwards distanced itself from paying the basic expenses of volunteer helpers, who are best placed to contribute to Myanmar in the sphere of internationalising business practices.

In building an "Asian values" only based trade block to counter the West, ASEAN has potentially weakened Myanmar's situation. Herein, instead of trying to slowly reform Myanmar from the inside-out, we have a brotherhood of "Asians only" newly industrialised and developing countries, sucking in capital and technology from the West, hoping to one day stand in opposition to the West. Herein, ASEAN is using Myanmar, but the EU was not.

In this frame, a Sino-led power centre lead by Singapore would be fostered, wherein, in further the financial needs of Oversea Chinese businessmen, human rights violations will be allowed to continue, because ASEAN countries do not comment on each other's internal affairs.
Posted by Oliver, Monday, 21 March 2005 2:42:54 PM
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For many years I've had Burmese teachers and friends and have followed the situation in Burma. I visited Rangoon in 1980 and Rangoon and Mandalay recently. I can't see ASEAN's views being a major consideration for the regime. The military found in 1991 that about 95 per cent of the electorate wanted them to quit power and make way for democracy. Since then there's been no movement at all towards greater freedom for the Burmese, and the people remain very poor. It's clear that the military feel that the present set up meets their requirements, and that there is no advantage to them in changing it.

In my view the main positive change in Burma in the last 15 years is that there has been a great expansion in the number of people practising the core teaching of the Buddha, Vipassana meditation, in its pure form. This is taught mainly by lay people, in purpose-built centres, rather than by monks. The Burmese people have long been devout and, the military aside, harmonious and peaceful, but only in recent years have lay people had significant, and increasing, opportunities to practise Vipassana. The disparity between the teachings of the Buddha and the conduct of the miltary government has been remarked by some brave monks, who have been imprisoned and disrobed by the regime, and not defended by the main body of monks, which does not seem to be a force for change. The strength of the pure, non-sectarian, practice taught by the Buddha is more likely to lead to change than direct pro-democracy action.
Posted by Faustino, Saturday, 26 March 2005 9:06:38 PM
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