Editorial


Burmese activists were outraged to learn late last week that the government had entered into a year-long public relations contract with a Washington-based lobbying firm worth US$840,000. Some took their disgust to social media, begging such legitimate questions as: “If reform is genuine and sincere, why would they need to hire a PR firm?”
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One year to the day since Burma lost one of its leading intellectual figures, Win Tin, The Irrawaddy looks back on his enduring legacy. A beloved democracy activist, journalist and former political prisoner, Win Tin lives on as an emblem of persistence and bravery for those seeking true democratic change in Burma.
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The news out of China is about a “new normal” of slower economic growth – down to about 7 percent. But at the recently concluded 2015 Asia-Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce (APCAC) held in Singapore, the focus was on the growth potential of the 10 nations comprising the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community, with Myanmar grabbing a significant amount of attention as the new investment destination. (more…)

Burma watchers around the world are paying special attention at the six-party talks held at the presidential residence in Nay-Pyi-Taw on 10 April. Present at the talks were President Thein Sein, the Union Parliament Speaker Thura Shwe Mann, Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint, Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy Aung San Suu Kyi and Dr. Aye Maung who represents the ethnic parties. (more…)

The story could pass as the plot of a legal thriller. A foreigner in a distant land upsets a powerful religious group and finds himself in prison. No lawyer wants to take the case. With the family in despair, a tough-talking attorney emerges from retirement and, despite health problems, confronts the system head on.
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Burma’s post-junta phase has been a farcical version of democracy. With elections looming, will the generals continue to reject the country’s most prized asset?
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Myanmar and China have long stressed the “pauk-phaw” or “fraternal” nature of their bilateral relationship. But the comforting catchphrase belies the often uneasy reality. While at pains to maintain strong ties with its giant neighbor, successive Myanmar leaders have often viewed the country with which they share a 1,250 mile border as a potential threat.
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The late veteran journalist and activist Win Tin, who spent almost two decades in prison, never resiled from his distrust of the current administration. As a political strategist for the National League for Democracy (NLD), he repeatedly warned Aung San Suu Kyi not to take part in the 2012 byelections. He was concerned that the opposition would be conceding too much ground to a government that came to power through rigged elections, and he didn’t want Suu Kyi to fall into the trap of granting legitimacy to a dubious status quo.
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In the face of scathing criticism from international human rights groups, supporters of the sainted Aung San Suu Kyi are left with only one way to spin her inaction and silence on the persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar: as cold political calculation on her part.
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A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed that Myanmar accidentally bombed Chinese soil. What are the consequences?
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Burma’s military-turned-civilian government has resown a seed of hatred between itself and the nation’s students by brutally cracking down on student protestors who have for months been demanding education reform. It was a rash and unwise move, the consequences of which are unpredictable.
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Proximity and ethnicity have bred misleading speculations about Chinese involvement in the ongoing conflict in northern Myanmar close to the bilateral border.
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After more than two weeks of intense fighting between Kokang rebels and the Burma Army around Laukkai, a number of questions remain unanswered.
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Terrifying anti-Muslim violence surged this week in Myanmar, exposing deep ethnic and religious tensions that are undermining efforts to stabilize the country and move forward with political and economic reforms. Myanmar’s democratic aspirations can never be fully realized if Muslims, who make up about 5 percent of the population, continue to be attacked and marginalized by Buddhists, the majority of the population. At least 44 people have died since March in sectarian mob violence.
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Even as the world smiled benignly at the democratic opening up of Myanmar and the extended foreign tour of its opposition leader, Aung San SuuKyi, the country’s complex domestic dynamic, hidden for years, has surfaced. (more…)

For more than two decades, Burma’s former ruling generals relied heavily on the country’s energy sector to keep themselves in power. Even after a year of much-heralded reforms, however, their grip on this key source of national revenue remains intact. This has to change—and it’s up to would-be foreign investors to ensure that it does. (more…)

Now that information travels more freely in and out of the country, news coming out of Myanmar about the violent treatment of the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group living in the Rakhine state on the border with Bangladesh, should disturb the conscience of those who love peace and freedom. Even more disturbing however is the silence of most of the world, including Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbors, in the face of clear human rights violations perpetrated by the state and its people against the ethnic group. (more…)

Many in Burma don’t have the luxury of worrying about economic advancement (see above). They are just trying to stay alive. Buddhists and Muslims are killing each other and burning down each other’s houses in Burma’s western coastal Rakhine State, and the government seems unable to stop the violence. The Muslim Rohingya minority is already one of the world’s most oppressed groups, and hatred for them among the local ethnic Rakhine population is reaching a fever pitch. A humanitarian disaster now looms. (more…)

For 25 years, India walked a tightrope in Myanmar between the need to build relations with an important neighbour that was also a strategic gateway to South-east and East Asia, and its conscience. Aung San Suu Kyi was the discomfiting reminder of that conscience. In the struggle to keep a balance between the two, New Delhi could neither go full steam ahead with the military regime that had kept Ms Suu Kyi under arrest, nor go all out to support the pro-democracy movement she led. That partly explains why no Indian Prime Minister visited Myanmar after Rajiv Gandhi in 1987. Now that Ms Suu Kyi, who was released in 2010, is participating in the country’s political reforms, India has signalled with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit earlier this week that it wants nothing other than a full normalisation of relations, and quickly. The reasons are no secret. With the western world having suspended sanctions on Myanmar, the country is gradually opening up its resource-rich economy, and as a neighbour, India clearly does not want to be left behind in the race. Equally important, Myanmar borders four states in India’s insurgency-hit Northeast. One reason why India did business with the military regime was to keep it from nurturing rebel groups. Prospects for stability in that region have increased with the Myanmar government’s decision seriously to pursue reconciliation with various armed ethnic rebel groups on its own side. The development of the border areas could help keep both sides stable and peaceful, give an economic leg-up to the Northeast, plus help connect India to the ASEAN countries. (more…)

Today, on her first full day on foreign soil since becoming Burma’s democratic icon 24 years ago, Aung San Suu Kyi was greeted by crowds of ecstatic supporters in the Burmese enclave of Mahachai, near Thailand’s capital. But nine years ago on this day, it was a very different crowd that surrounded her. (more…)

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