58 captures
01 Dec 2011 - 11 Nov 2020
About this capture
A democratic Myanmar?
Recent events indicate that Myanmar may be emerging from its long, self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world.
Yuriko Koike Last Modified: 02 Dec 2011 11:35
Myanmar 'already has in Aung San Suu Kyi its very own Nelson Mandela', writes author [GALLO/GETTY]
Tokyo, Japan - Historic transformations often happen when least expected. Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalising policies of glasnost and perestroika in the Soviet Union emerged at one of the Cold War's darkest hours, with US President Ronald Reagan pushing for strategic missile defence and the two sides fighting proxy wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Deng Xiaoping's economic opening followed China's bloody - and failed - invasion of Vietnam in 1978. And South Africa's last apartheid leader, FW de Klerk, was initially perceived as just another apologist for the system - hardly the man to free Nelson Mandela and oversee the end of white minority rule.
Now the world is suddenly asking whether Myanmar, after six decades of military dictatorship, has embarked on a genuine political transition that could end the country's pariah status. Is Myanmar, like South Africa under de Klerk, truly poised to emerge from a half-century of self-imposed isolation? And can Aung San Suu Kyi, the heroic opposition leader, and Thein Sein, Myanmar's new president, engineer a political transition as skillfully and peacefully as Mandela and de Klerk did for South Africa in the early 1990s?
 Suu Kyi's NLD party re-entering politics
Despite her two decades of house arrest and isolation, Suu Kyi possesses two of the gifts that enabled Mandela to carry out his great task: a reassuring serenity and an utter lack of vindictiveness. As Myanmar's authorities test reform, these gifts, together with her negotiating skills and, most of all, her vast moral authority, will be tested as never before.
Moreover, unlike Mandela during his 27-year imprisonment, Suu Kyi has had her hopes raised - and dashed - before. In the mid-1990s, and again in 2002-03, reconciliation between Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) and the military junta seemed to be in the offing. On both occasions, however, the regime's hardliners gained the upper hand, crushing prospects for reform.
Yet Suu Kyi, and much of the Myanma opposition, is beginning to admit that today's political liberalisation might be the real thing. Because Myanmar's generals say almost nothing in public, it is difficult to fathom why they allowed elections that elevated Thein Sein to power, or to explain their willingness to embrace dialogue with the long-suppressed opposition.
Recent events suggest one possible explanation: Myanmar's rulers have grown wary of China's almost smothering embrace - a result of the country's international isolation. Indeed, public protests against China's commercial exploitation of Myanmar's natural resources became so widespread that the government called a halt to construction by Chinese investors on the huge and environmentally damaging Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River.
Thein Sein's decision to halt the project is clearly an important policy shift. It is also a signal to the outside world that Myanmar's new government may be much more willing than any of its predecessors to heed both public pressure and international opinion, both of which vehemently opposed the dam's construction.
Almost simultaneously, Thein Sein offered even stronger signals that his was a very different administration: He freed political prisoners and invited Suu Kyi for direct talks with him. Indeed, Suu Kyi now enjoys far greater freedom of movement than she has at any time since she received the Nobel Peace Prize 20 years ago, and the NLD recently announced that it will field candidates in the forthcoming by-elections to the country's newly established parliament. If Suu Kyi is permitted to campaign free of restraint, for both her own seat and to boost the electoral chances of her NLD colleagues, it will be clear that Thein Sein and his government are truly determined to bring their country in from the cold.
For both Suu Kyi and Thein Sein, every step from now on will be delicate, to be calibrated with the same care and deliberation that Mandela and de Klerk used in bridging their differences and leading their country out of isolation. But the international community, too, must act with great care.
While Thein Sein would undoubtedly wish to see the myriad economic and political sanctions imposed on Myanmar quickly lifted, it is too soon for a general easing of such measures. But the outside world should demonstrate that every clear move towards greater political openness will merit more international political and economic engagement.
The Japan Investment Bank's decision to invest in port development in Myanmar - essential if the economy, too, is to be opened - is one positive sign that the world will keep pace with Thein Sein step for step. And US President Barack Obama's decision to send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Myanmar to meet Thein Sein is another clear sign that the world is ready to end the country's isolation.
Closer to home, ASEAN's recent decision to give Myanmar a chance to chair the organisation in 2014 underscores its neighbours' desire for the country's full participation in Asia's growing prosperity.
No one should rush to judgment yet, but Thein Sein's decisions, at least so far, are beginning to resemble those of South Africa's de Klerk when he initiated his country's reform process. Fortunately, Myanamr already has in Aung San Suu Kyi its very own Nelson Mandela.
Yuriko Koike is Japan's former Minister of Defence and National Security Adviser.

A version of this article previously appeared on Project Syndicate.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
Project Syndicate
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
Americans are being lied to about the deficit
Republicans want to gut social safety nets, not cut the US deficit.
Pepper spray nation
With most of the UC board of regents being in the 1%, student demonstrators should expect more police brutality.
The battle of Cairo's Muhammad Mahmoud Street
The street battles taking place in Cairo are emblematic of its Second Revolution: tear gas, hair gel and tramadol.
Bahrain: Shouting in the dark
The story of the Arab revolution that was abandoned by the Arabs, forsaken by the West and forgotten by the world.
Content on this website is for general information purposes only. Your comments are provided by your own free will and you take sole responsibility for any direct or indirect liability. You hereby provide us with an irrevocable, unlimited, and global license for no consideration to use, reuse, delete or publish comments, in accordance with Community Rules & Guidelines and Terms and Conditions.
Top News
Turnout reaches 62 per cent in Egypt poll
Merkel calls for tighter euro fiscal union
UN rights body condemns Syria violations
Sharp drop in US unemployment rate
Panetta: Israel must mend fences in region
Egypt's revolution will not be militarised
Who are you going to believe? The media?
How to be in opposition in Russia
Neutralising Myanmar's ethnic rebellions
Everybody hates Newt Romney
What's Hot
ViewedEmailed7 Days
Targeting Iran
Chavez lauds new South American alliance
Muslims of France
Turnout reaches 62 per cent in Egypt poll
Ghana Gold
Lebanon's intelligence war
Global rebellion: The coming chaos?
Sharp drop in US unemployment rate
Afghan woman jailed for being raped pardoned
Everybody hates Newt Romney
More Opinion
Egypt's revolution will not be militarised
Abdullah Al-Arian
Who are you going to believe? The media?
Daniel Hind
Everybody hates Newt Romney
Cliff Schecter
Another Asian wake-up call
Stephen S Roach
Hope or hype for personalised medicine?
Henry I. Miller
Japan's 10 years since 9/11
Fumi Inoue
New India, old Europe
Shashi Tharoor
Egypt's 12,001 missing votes
Mark LeVine
Iran: domestic power plays
Nima Khorrami Assl
How one Tanzanian village is fighting AIDS
Belinda Otas
Neutralising Myanmar's ethnic rebellions
Maung Zarni
A democratic Myanmar?
Yuriko Koike
Famine as a crime against humanity
Abdi Ismail Samatar
A shift from the Middle East to the Pacific
Christopher R Hill
DR Congo Elections
Follow our in-depth coverage as Africa's second-largest nation goes to the polls.
Join Our Mailing List
Email Address

Enter Zip Code

links from aljazeera.com
Pakistan tells NATO to leave air base
354 points | 182 comments
Locking up profits - Private prison companies strive to keep millions behind bars to keep their profits up
338 points | 34 comments
Global Rebellion: "the immense structural inequalities of the global political economy can no longer be contained through consensual mechanisms of social control. The ruling classes have lost legitimacy; we are witnessing a breakdown of ruling-class hegemony on a world scale."
247 points | 63 comments
Global Rebellion: "the immense structural inequalities of the global political economy can no longer be contained through consensual mechanisms of social control. The ruling classes have lost legitimacy; we are witnessing a breakdown of ruling-class hegemony on a world scale."
181 points | 16 comments
LA mayor sites "trampled grass" as reason to evict occupyLA
116 points | 20 comments
NewsIn DepthProgrammesVideoBlogsBusinessWeatherSportWatch Live
FocusOpinionFeaturesIn PicturesInteractiveSpotlightBriefingsYour Views