Developmental Authoritarianism: Burma's Turn?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 4/10/2012 01:18:00 PM
There's an interesting brace of articles [1, 2] from the Financial Times concerning Myanmar AKA Burma opening up to the rest of the world once again. Following Vietnam and China before that, Burma appears to be loosening up to the extent that it can profit from participation in the world economy. Ironically given the general goal of authoritarian development Myanmar's junta wants to promote, a major impetus for Burma right now is to avoid becoming too dependent on China. While the PRC remains Burma's investor of last resort with all sorts of mostly energy-related projects going on there, the junta tired of China exploiting its pariah status to obtain the best deal possible...for China, that is.

Or so these articles suggest. I remain convinced that Burma normalizing its relations with everyone else will likely culiminate in ASEAN giving it the stamp of approval by (finally) allowing it to take up the ASEAN rotating chairmanship in 2014. Surely, Myanmar has already done much to see to it that foreign sanctions against Burma will be lifted. Mainly to appease the pro-democracy crowd, Aung San Suu Kyi and her fellow National League for Democracy (NLD) colleagues have been allowed to run in by-elections and will now attend parliament. Given their overwhelming victory, it suggests the 2010 general elections where the NLD did not participate coupled with the by-elections gave the generals the best of both worlds. That is, they maintained their huge majority while subsequently giving enough of an impression of a turn to democracy so that longstanding US and EU sanctions will be much diluted.

The upshot is that Myanmar will likely be on its best behaviour until the end of 2014 when its ASEAN chairmanship--assuming it gets this designation--terminates. Acceptance by its regional peers would mean  a lot. After that, however, all bets may once again be off. For instance, will they use means both fair and foul to continue having a military-backed parliamentary majority? The 2012 "free elections show" may be a transitory thing to gain Western favour. To its credit, Myanmar does recognize that these Western powers are particularly keen in this day and age to rediscover Myanmar's vast resources.

Meanwhile, the military lurks in the background--as it has for decades now.