Opinion


There has been so much regression on democracy and human rights in Myanmar recently that many people, this editorial page included, have suggested the United States must consider reinstating broad sanctions.
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Following her recent participation in the ASEAN Regional Forum in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, which included bilateral meetings with counterparts from 11 countries, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj declared, “I myself feel that the visit was very successful.” Her trip will set the stage for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to Myanmar in November. These engagements come as public and government opposition to Chinese infrastructure projects in Myanmar rises, offering India the opportunity to fill the strategic gap left by China’s waning influence in the Southeast Asian country. (more…)

There was a time when ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and stateless Rohingya Muslims in western Burma lived and worked together. They were once neighbors, albeit uneasy ones, sharing a tense but relatively stable existence.
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A lot has changed in Burma since the country’s transition began in 2011. This remains an indisputable – albeit somewhat overplayed – fact. Keen to participate in the country’s uneven process of opening up, uncomfortable compromises have had to be made on all sides – something which seemed unthinkable only a few years ago. In the realm of macro-level policies shaping the future of Burma, though, the power players dominate. There is a marked asymmetry between the traction given to voices propounding a tried-and-tested model of ‘development’, and those pushing for a more heedful and cautious approach. Despite the coverage afforded to Burma in recent years, few people seem to be asking either why this is, or what the consequences might be.
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When Myanmar’s military junta dissolved itself in 2011, the country took steps to transition to a more democratic society, including releasing political prisoners and relaxing restrictions on the press. But, its progress toward democracy has stalled.
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There must have been a sigh of relief as Ooredoo, a Qatar-based telecoms company, finally started offering SIM cards to the people of Myanmar, who previously had to pay hundreds of dollars for somewhat dysfunctional service. Telenor, another foreign telecoms license winner, has meanwhile vowed to provide network coverage for 90 per cent of Myanmar’s population within five years. Myanmar has never had it so good.
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Burma’s relatively new, quasi-civilian leadership has yet to prove that it is responsible and accountable to the country’s citizens, who, for the first time after decades under an oppressive military regime, have been given the promise of representation. But the problems in Burma that most affect the lives of its people are rarely reaching parliament, which has chosen instead to focus on convoluted political shuffles and superficial reforms.
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There is not a conversation or discussion on the Myanmar peace process that does not include two words: “trust” and “distrust”. As far as the peace process is concerned, no matter who speaks on any given occasion, the two words are either mentioned in passing or featured prominently.
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Allan Lokos and Susanna Weiss, two New Yorkers who run a meditation center on the Upper West Side, arrived in Myanmar in December 2012 eager to explore a nation just emerging from decades of military rule. As practitioners of Theravada Buddhism themselves, visiting this largely Buddhist land, with its golden pagodas and crimson-robed monks, was more than just a holiday.
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Since reports about the cancellation of a proposed US$20 billion railway line connecting China’s southern Yunnan province with Myanmar’s Rakhine western coast emerged in late July, conflicting accounts about the 1,200 kilometer project’s status have raised new questions about the neighboring countries’ commercial relations.
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The new Indian government has begun its tenure with a busy calendar of international travel. Most recently, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has been in Naypyitaw, Myanmar for the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting (AMM), the East Asia Summit meeting of foreign ministers, and the ASEAN Regional Forum.
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The timing was conspiciously reminiscent of old junta tactics. Two days before newly appointed UN special human rights rapporteur Ms Yanghee Lee wrapped up her first visit to Myanmar with a highly publicised news conference at Yangon International Airport on July 26, the government extended its hand to Medecins Sans Frontieres.
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Back in the early 1980s, whenever fellow students told me that they lived in Yangon’s Golden Valley, I knew at once that they were from elite families. In those days, we called this high-end neighborhood “Bogyoke Ywa,” or “Generals’ Village,” because it was home to many high-ranking members of Myanmar’s military ruling class.
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Freedom of religion — a person’s right to worship as he or she chooses — is central to our national identity as Americans and a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. The right to believe in a religious creed or not, without fear of government interference, is essential to human dignity, robust civil society and sustainable democracy.
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The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
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As Myanmar gears up to host this weekend’s ASEAN Regional Forum, it may find that its role is both a blessing and a curse. While Myanmar welcomes its chance in the spotlight as ASEAN Chair, that role is increasingly difficult to play. Maritime disputes in the South China Sea threaten to turn each ASEAN meeting into a tug of war between anti- and pro-China forces.
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In Mandalay in central Myanmar, another bout of bloody sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims recently left two dead and many injured. The riot was sparked by rumours that two Muslims had raped a Buddhist woman. The deaths brought to about 240 the number killed in sectarian clashes over the past two years. Most of the victims were Muslims.
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Violence related to Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Burma often leaves observers with a sense of bewilderment; many Buddhist practitioners have resorted to violent means in the name of what is essentially a peaceful religion. This contradiction is somewhat easier to understand when viewed from two angles – East and West.
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Myanmar this week comes as the clock is ticking for Burma’s major political parties in the run-up to the 2015 national elections. As many as 70 political parties could compete in a country that has been plagued by civil war and ethnic violence for generations. Among these parties will be two major forces: the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and the military’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
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Burma’s democratic transition is running off the rails. Obama and Kerry can help to bring it back on track.
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