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Asean Affairs  17  January 2011

The diplomatic initiative on Myanmar

By  David Swartzentruber

AseanAffairs     17 January 2011

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Today’s top story in the world of Asean is the Myanmar diplomatic initiative floated by Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya at a recent Asean meeting in Indonesia.

As reported by news sources, he said that the world should take note that democracy has returned to Myanmar and lift the sanctions imposed by both the European Union and the United States dating back to the mid-1990s. His suggestion was unanimously approved by the 10-member group. This diplomatic thrust has several aspects.

It is widely accepted that the sanctions have had little effect on Myanmar. The military junta still rules with an iron grip both before and after sanctions were imposed.

The economy has shown double digit growth in 2010 as China and Thailand made heavy investments in Myanmar. Thailand recently closed a deal to develop a major port in the Myanmar port of Daiei, which is close to its western border with Myanmar and so Piromya’s initiative does not come out of thin air.

Another issue is that Myanmar’s democracy might better be viewed as the junta switching from their military uniforms to business suits rather than a free and open democracy. The military is guaranteed 25 percent of the seats in the new parliamentary structure. However, combined with the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from house detention the phrase, “something is better than nothing” might well fit the current Myanmar scenario.

Hiding in the shadows behind Myanmar’s new face is the ongoing conflicts with armed ethnic separatist groups such as the Wa, the Kachin and the Karen. These groups also produce drugs to distribute across the border in Thailand to bring back hard currency to finance their military operations making them a true Asean issue.

Whatever is on the new government’s agenda, a plan to come to terms with these groups and make them part of Myanmar’s national development is of paramount importance.

The timing may be right for a new Myanmar initiative under the leadership of Asean.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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This year in Thailand-what next?

04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More

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