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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

Britain Policy in the context of Burma


They Shall Not Be Moved


Kanbawza Win


Hearing about the Wilton Park Conference, Sussex or Burma Workshop, I remember an old gospel song "What ever they do; we shall not be moved." Meaning, whatever the satanic forces do, the genuine followers of the Lord will not be moved? The Conference main aim is not to discuss the future of Burma, but to find out some new ideas, recommendations and policy options that may be useful for the White Hall in formulating British policy, in lieu with the European Common policy. The target is to review the existing plans and policies and make necessary changes, if needed be in the interest of Britain. Such is the nature of closed-door meeting and obviously the British Government does not want the media to speculate the conclusion of the brain storming session which is a policy commitment. No doubt, it will let in only to a few limited persons who have the potential to contribute. Of course it is understandable that Michael Ryder leave out the old men (NLD) and some young adult (CRPP and EN) as he harbors some doubts that they would contribute anything at all for Her Majesty Government. Even though it is under the initiative of the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, known as "Countries at Risk of Instability" that will be concentrating on Afro Asian countries, many Burmese were appall of how this workshop has been manipulated by the anti sanctions groups, if not the Junta's advocates and sympathizers. One could recollect "Burma Day 2005" at Brussels, where the invitation is confined to the Junta's apologists only, while all the pro-democracy forces were marginalized.


But we are doubtful, whether the British MPs know that this three- day brainstorming session deliberately leave out the brains, overriding the "Chatham House Rules" and preference is given only to the Junta's cronies who think alike. The very fact that this particular date was chosen to coincide with the most important World Summit on the UN (initiated by non other than Kofi Annan himself), in order to attract as little attention as possible, seems to indicate that something is very fishy about it. We were more bewildered when the British Ambassador, in fluent Burmese, explains to the NLD executive committee that there is no political agenda. But the most paradoxical aspect is that the invitation was tendered only when there was uproar over the media, knowing full well that no NLD could ever make it in such a short time with maximum restrictions. We are at a loss of why the invitation was not extended by weeks earlier when Michael Ryder met U Lwin, for the NLD to think of the alternative?  


As matured Burmese, we could not care less for the little petty things or what we say as natty gritty aspects of life, such as the incumbent British ambassador of Rangoon is jealous of the Burmese Nobel Laureate popularity (it is a natural feminine jealousy) as cannot outshine herself in the British policy towards Burma and her actions has been thwarted by the Burma UK campaign and in desperation have recruited a modern Galon U Saw by inviting him to stay in her residence for advice, are all but too small and narrow-minded things even to mention. We don't have any qualms of who are the invitees are; be it the illustrious editor of the Myanmar Times or the Burmese turn coats and opportunists who equates the morality of the pro-democracy movement with that of the pugnacious regime. It is the businesses of the organizers. We, on our part are able to differentiate these organizers from the noble national character of the British people. Probably these invitees may create new openings with differing levels and types of resource commitment as clearly outlined on page 4 under the heading of the key principles for country strategy formulation of "Countries at Risk of Instability."


Current British Policy


One can gauge the British Foreign Policy after listening to Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech at the University of Chicago, when he compares the common threads between Britain and US. A corner stone of the British policy lies in the emphasis that Blair places upon values above interest: It is the emphasis on "values" that links him to the neocons. Blair's formulation that, "since the Cold War, our actions are guided by ... mutual self-interest and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish. " In the end, values and interests merge. The distinction between values and interests is crucial. In the world interests are usually defended, values are promoted. Interests are material and can be defined, values are hard to pin down and know no limit. Of course we could not comprehend of how these British values correlate with this close door Wilton Park Conference if the turncoats and betrayers are to be prominent?


However, it seems that Prime Minister Tony Blair is well aware that some foreign policy issues are becoming increasingly difficult to handle - not least Britain's triangular relationship with both Europe and the United States. While he had especially close personal ties with former US President Bill Clinton, even the arrival of the more conservative George Bush in the White House, has not dented Tony Blair's faith that the so-called special relationship between London and Washington can sail on happily. The close ties are based not just on personalities but also on objective interests. The US and Britain have close trading and defense ties. Britain is still the most likely of America's NATO allies to commit troops to joint military operations. For Britain, the closeness with Washington helps to define a special role for the UK around the globe, and it is a role that no British Government is likely to abandon. Since nine eleven Britain has been very close to US but it did not make Britain a superpower for being closed to a super power. So in this context, the American policy on Burma will surely fall a big shadow on the British policy towards Burma and eventually the EU will follow suit. Even though, we recognize that it is the right of a sovereign country to follow its own foreign policy and not to be dictated by a super power and British policy towards Burma is no exception, it is hard to correlate, cooperate, regulate and accommodate of how the punitive actions of the American policy with the nature of the Wilton Park Conference.


In the early years of the United Nations the one aim of the Third World, was precisely that the Western and in particular former colonial powers should walk away from them and let them take their own decisions. The right of member states of the UN to take decisions, correct or mistaken, without intervention from outside, was enshrined in Article 2 (7) of the United Nations Charter, which all practitioners in New York knew by heart. It was one of the foundations of the post-colonial settlement and was jealously protected by those countries including Burma who thought they benefited from it. It would have been inconceivable then to imagine a conference held on the banks of the Rhine to determine the government of Afghanistan, or the presence of British troops in the streets of Kabul to sustain that government. Now, however, the conventional wisdom is all in favour of virtuous intervention, the classic examples being Afghanistan, Iraq not to mention Bosnia and Kosovo. The Junta pretending to be too naïve, see this writings on the wall vividly, and have taken the precautionary measures of moving the capital to Pyinmana, where it is more conventionally defensible and is compelling its citizens for compulsory military training, while Kamikaze type child soldiers are trained by hundreds. It has also move its nuclear plant from Magwe to Maymyo  (Pyin Oo Lwin) to a flat place surrounded by hills on all side and the mist is always there so that it could not be seen from the air. Perhaps the pro engagement theoretician refused to see it. This seems to prove that the only way for a change in Burma is to bring down the Junta by force that will send cold chills through the spine of the anti sanctions groups.


Perhaps the war in Iraq has had a seismic impact on international perceptions of Britain and British Foreign Policy. The last two years have also made manifest the fracturing of the old blocs that shaped the Cold War world into a new set of schisms: the fragmentation of the West; 'New' and 'Old' Europe; the bitter conflicts between moderates and extremists in the Arab and Muslim worlds. These changes have taken place in a new diplomatic environment where the force of global public opinion, the revolution in information and communications technology, and the growing need to establish multilateral coalitions, place relationships with international publics at the heart of any foreign policy strategy. Neither a redeployment of old Cold War propaganda tolls, nor the 1990's variant of Cool Britannia will do. Instead, there should be a new set of trust-building practices that address the gaps in worldview and significant public opinions challenges that exist in relationships with the majority of pro democracy Burmese groups and new powers and the rest of the developing world.


British Policy Towards Burma


Britain's policy is to refer to 'Burma' rather than 'Myanmar', itself signifies that it favors the pro democracy movement who are the legitimate winners of the 1990 elections. Britain does not accept that the un-elected military regime has the right to change the official name of the country to suit its own ends. Britain is active within the EU and UN, to bring pressure to bear on the Burmese regime to improve the human rights situation and to enter into substantive dialogue with democratic and ethnic nationality leaders. Moreover it does not encourage trade, investment or tourism with Burma or offer any commercial services for companies wanting to do business with Burma, nor do they give financial support for trade promotion activities or organize trade missions. British American Tobacco withdrew its investment from that country in response to a request by the British Government Britain provides assistance to Burma in line with the EU Common Position. Article 5 of the EU Common Position states that non-humanitarian aid or development aid shall be suspended. It also states that exceptions shall be made for projects and programmes in support of:


Human rights, democracy, good governance, conflict prevention and building the capacity of civil society;


Health and education, poverty alleviation and in particular the provision of basic needs and livelihoods for the poorest and most vulnerable populations;


Environmental protection, and in particular programmes addressing the problem of non-sustainable, excessive logging resulting in deforestation.


It also funds various projects within Burma in the areas of health, poverty alleviation and human rights. A priority for the UK is assistance for the UN's Fund for HIV/AIDS in Burma (FHAM) for combating the spread of HIV/AIDS in Burma. The UK has increased funding provided to the Burmese Border Consortium, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross for their work with Burmese refugees and those within Burma. Besides it funds an educational Burmese Soap produced by the BBC World Service to raise awareness about health and poverty related diseases, such as TB and HIV/AIDS. This alone indicates that the British government sympathizes with the people of Burma and not with the tyrannical regime not to mention the Junta's apologists.


Successive resolutions were co-sponsored by Britain at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) have drawn attention to arbitrary detentions, extra-judicial killings, rape, torture, the large number of political prisoners, abuse of women's and children's rights and the complete absence of democracy. The latest British backed EU co-sponsored UNCHR resolution passed in April 2005 expressed her grave concern on these issues, with particular concern over the continued detention of political prisoners and the human rights abuses in the ethnic nationalities controlled areas The UN Security Council has passed a resolution on Children Affected by Armed Conflict and Britain said, “we are especially concerned about Burma, where consistent reports indicate wide, systematic and forced recruitment and training of children for use in combat.”


All these indicate that the British policy towards Burma was well orchestrated following its own values and cannot be swayed by one person be she an ambassador or not. As far as the British policy towards Burma is concern its actions are worthy of admiration, inspiration and imitation.


The European Union Common Position


In 1996, the EU adopted a Common Position on Burma, which implemented a range of restrictive measures designed to target those obstructing reform and progress, but ensuring that the ordinary people of Burma suffer as little as possible. The Common Position includes: an arms embargo; bans on defense links, high-level bilateral government visits, non-humanitarian aid, the supply of equipment that might be used for internal repression or terrorism and an asset freeze and visa ban on regime members, their families, the military and security forces and others who actively frustrate the process of national reconciliation. To put pressure on the regime to work towards democratic change and respect for human rights, the EU Common Position on Burma was strengthened in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2004 in response to the continued detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the continued harassment of the NLD and the failure to allow a genuine open debate in the National Convention. The strengthened measures include an expansion of the visa ban and a prohibition on EU registered companies or organizations from making financial loans or credit available to named Burmese state-owned enterprises. At the same time, the EU pledged to expand assistance to the people of Burma in the areas of health and education. This Common Position was renewed in April 2005 that extended the visa ban on the children and spouse of the Junta and its cronies.


These are all good traits of a well respected a huge regional organization, if not the whole of Europe and should be maintained. We notice the vast difference in the core values of Europe vis a vis ASEAN, another regional organization that strictly adheres to the Constructive Engagement as far as Burma is concerned. Not that the Asian values of giving preference to harmony and consensus is inferior to individual rights but in our quest for democracy and human rights, we discovered that the West is more helpful than the appeasement policy of the dictators. Besides most of the people of Burma trust the British because of their forthrightness. Unlike Paris, that invited General Maung Aye in 1997 even though France had adopted the European common position a year earlier and when Khin Nyunt went to New York it takes nearly two days to make a connection flight in Paris (ask the details to Info Birmanie) however we noticed that there is no French Connection in London.


The Wilton Park Conference on Burma is a good thing for it proves that Britain is seriously interested in Burma and has placed her in the priority list. It is just a feeble attempt to discover this appeasement policy of whether it will work at all and there is nothing to worry about, for even if UK by any chance lifted on the restrictions and sanctions due to the lobby of the cronies, Burma economy will not develop or the lives of suffering Burmese will not improve, because it is not the sanctions that are creating economic difficulties inside Burma. Rather it is the failed economic policies of the Generals that bring misery to the entire people of the country. Burma as a failed state seems to be the main criteria. Besides it will be harsh for the cronies to push the agenda forward to a policy level as it will have to go through the junior minister on Burma, Ian Pearson and Secretary of State and finally through the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Parliament even though the British ambassador has a direct access to the Prime Minister Tony Blair.


After one and half decades, there seems to have no solution from inside Burma and the Generals finding themselves unable to get rid of one name, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, now began to blame all the country's evil on her, even though they put her under lock and key and the Junta's apologist are just echoing this rhetoric. With the passing of every day it seems that the solution of the Burmese gridlock must be imposed from out side where the Diaspora and the ethnic nationalities will play a major role. Something like what Commodore Matthew Perry did, with his four black ships led by USS Powhatan, woke up Japan on July 1853, which finally led to the downfall of the usurper Tokugawa Shogunate, has to be done. Britain has joined the US in Afghanistan and Iraq because it believes in the theory of virtuous interventions and who can say may take the initiative on Burmese regime that has sacrificed millions of her people by placing restrictions on the NGOs including Global Fund because the Generals wants to control everything. Sanctions are just the mechanism to make the Generals see to reasons and it will stay no matter what the Junta advocates tried.


We are quite positive that the British people have learnt their lessons of appeasement policy at  "Munich" initiated by Chamberlain and that there are many young Churchill in Britain, who will stand up to this encroachment. A futile attempt by a few to hoodwink the international community by amalgamating punitive actions with isolations will not rock the Royal Navy boats for they shall not be moved.


Professor Win, is formerly Senior Research Fellow at the European Institute of Asian Studies base in Brussels.  The views express here are solely the opinion of the author. (Kaowao's Editor)


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