First, the ASEAN gave its unanimous nod to Myanmar’s request to chair the Association in 2014. Then, American President Barack Obama announced that his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will make an unprecedented visit to Myanmar sometime next month. And now, Japanese Foreign Minister Kochiro Gemba is announcing that he will do the same. This after Japan has decided to resume aid to the erstwhile pariah state.
We are clearly seeing an attempt by these Western and Asian powers to engage Myanmar, perhaps in order to boost President Thein Sein and his civilian-military hybrid of a government. And my guess is that the reasons may not be limited to the issues of human rights and Burmese democratization.
Two days ago on The Diplomat, resident Southeast Asia analyst and leftist Filipino congressman Mong Palatino wrote about how the recent changes in Myanmar– the promulgation of a new constitution, the release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and the election of a new parliament– were nothing but a charade. “Burma’s junta leaders delivered what could probably be the political masterstroke of 2010 in the Southeast Asia region: Obscure the continuing military dictatorship in the country by releasing from detention a global democracy icon and conducting nationwide polls,” he said.
There are a lot of a lot of angles to look at when analyzing the effects of the recent cyclone in Burma that killed over 100,000 people and destroyed millions of dollars in properties.
One implication that would most certainly affect the Philippines is another surge in global rice prices. It is reported that the damages on agricultural land in the affected areas are so dire that Myanmar officials are already stopping its rice exports. In fact, the Nyawpyitaw junta is expected to actually start importing rice to feed the people.
Among the five founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Philippines is Myanmar’s pain in the ass.
In Singapore last week, President Arroyo slapped the junta’s face when she called on the regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi and to hasten democratization in Burma. If the junta will not do so, Arroyo warned that the Philippine Congress will likely reject the landmark ASEAN Charter, a scenario that made ASEAN leaders and diplomats shiver.
Very brave indeed. But unfortunately for the Philippines and for the people of Burma, Arroyo’s call fell on deaf ears.