Saturday, August 15, 2009

Asean policy and trade with Burma

Bangkok POST BAG

Having just seen PM Abhisit Vejjajiva's interview on BBC World news, I am left with the wholly depressing conclusion that salvation for the Burmese people is not going to come from Asia - and certainly not from Asean.

No amount of words from the erudite and well-spoken prime minister can hide the fact that Asean is, even now, sanguine about doing business with a completely criminal regime that has a record of theft and murder.

Asean is unperturbed by its business relationship with the junta, even as it wrings its hands over the incarceration of Aung San Suu Kyi and the dreadful situation in Burma.

In the interview, PM Abhisit signally fails to clarify why it would be counter-productive for Asean to ''pressure'' the regime with even the threat of Asean sanctions. On this point I think it is beholden on the media in Thailand and internationally to be much more forceful on this issue: Asean definitely has the leverage, as any economist who knows about Burma's trade, will tell you.

Burma's trade is the regime's oxygen; it is vital to keep this monster alive. The natural resources that the regime trades (mainly with Asean) funds the army and fills the generals' bank accounts. It signally does very little to support the Burmese people at all. For instance, I wonder if the tripartite core group can give a realistic figure of the amount of money the regime has actually spent on relief and redevelopment in the cyclone-devastated areas?

When the history of this appalling affair is written, Asean will be seen in a very bad light indeed _ unless it decides to change its policies in favour of the Burmese people instead of a bunch of murderous and thieving thugs. Even now it is not too late.


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