An Independent Survey of Events in Myanmar
Nine foreign banks picked for licences
Myanmar Times - 1 October 014
The Central Bank of Myanmar has announced nine banks that have won preliminary approval to operate in Myanmar.
The nine banks are Australia’s ANZ Bank, Thailand’s Bangkok Bank, Japan’s Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubisihi, Mizuho Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, China’s Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Malaysia’s Maybank and Singapore’s OCBC and UOB.
The preliminary approvals are valid for 12 months, during which the banks must fulfill their commitments made during the tender process, ensure functional banking operations and follow Central Bank of Myanmar guidelines. “Upon fulfillment of [these conditions], the Central Bank of Myanmar will grant the final Licence to operate in Myanmar."
Derek Tonkin writes: The nine banks are all from the Asia-Pacific region and do not include any European or US banks. Standard Chartered Bank expressed inititial; interest, but later withdrew. It is possible that continuing US financial sanctions were a disincentive.
Freedom of Information Requests to the FCO
UK Government - 29 September 2014
Information relating to the recovery of World War II Spitfire aircraft reportedly buried in Myanmar/Burma in 1945 or 1946.
"FOI ref 0854-13 and 0855-13 explains that some of the information is withheld under section 27 (international relations), section 35 (formulation of government policy), section 36 (prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs – free and frank advice), section 40 (personal information), section 41 (information provided in confidence) and section 43 (commercial interests) of the Freedom of Information Act. A 9-page document of redacted emails is released with the response."
Derek Tonkin writes: Possibly the main point of interest in these documents is the comment in an email dated 8 May 2012 to 'Leeds' that: "You may be interested to know that the President [of Myanmar] is above all interested in the heritage aspects of the deal, according to the advisers we spoke to, and is keen for planes to be made available to the public in both countries. We agreed that this was our vision for the project, too. So we are more than happy to keep in touch on this, as it develops."
My personal view on this project from the very start was that there was not the remotest likelihood that even a single Spitfire would be found. I based this on my long awareness of the rumours, my own archival research and discussions with Ministry of Defence air historical experts whom, surprisingly, Whitehall never consulted.
Government wants UN Resolutions to stop
The Myanmar Times - 30 September 2014
The government has used its United Nations General Assembly address to press the case that progress on reforms initiated by President U Thein Sein means the international community should cease its annual resolution on Myanmar’s human rights record and drop the country from its broader human rights agenda.
However, observers say the pitch is likely to fall flat given ongoing concerns over communal conflict in Rakhine State, with the European Union expected to submit a resolution to the assembly in coming weeks.
Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin told officials at the General Assembly in New York that Myanmar was now “middle tier of the human rights ladder” and that it no longer needed to be targeted by sponsored resolutions or the UN’s Human Rights Council.
Will Myanmar's reforms sideline Suu Kyi's influence?
Daniel Opacki: Dissident Voice -29 September 2014
Mr Opacki, who is described as an Educator who writes about Myanmar, speculates on the course which Suu Kyi may take in the context of the 2015 elections.
Derek Tonkin writes: Mr Opacki takes a jaundiced view of the political situation in Myanmar. His presentation however is undermined by a number of historical errors. Thus Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in July 1989, or ten months before the May 1990 elections, not afterwards; the law disqualifying Suu Kyi from the presidency is contained in the 2008 Constitution (Article 59), the provision was not written into a law passed after her release from house arrest in November 2010; and there is also no law in force or planned to prevent party members campaigning outside their home constituencies and the denial of reports to this effect has been carried even by Radio Free Asia.
Mr Opacki's lack of awareness of historical events and of the present situation must make his speculation less than persuasive. It is a brave man indeed who would today seek to predict the future of Myanmar over the next 18 months.
Ban urges Myanmar to move beyond 'narrow agendas'
UN News Centre - 26 September 2014
Myanmar has shown progress in areas of socio-economic development, national reconciliation and democratization, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confirmed today, while also warning that the Asian country still faced “critical hurdles” as it approached its impending elections.
In remarks delivered to the Meeting of the Partnership Group on Myanmar, held on the margins of the General Assembly in New York, Mr. Ban celebrated the move by the Government to invite ethnic armed groups to join the country’s ongoing peace process, stating that “open discussions on issues like power, resource sharing and a federal union based on equality, democracy and self-determination are signs of a serious commitment to a united Myanmar.”
“Now is the time to move beyond narrow agendas and towards cooperation,” said Mr. Ban, who added that the UN would “continue to play a constructive role” in developing Myanmar’s path towards peace. Continue reading.....
U Wirathu visits Sri Lanka: Muslims concerned. So is US
Asian Tribune - 27 September 2014
The United States Department of State is deeply concerned about the public discourse of a section of Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka and its radicalism toward the Muslim minorities. An official pronouncement by the American Embassy in Colombo about the radical Buddhist organization called the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS- Buddhist Power Force) accused it of being instrumental in attacking Muslim places of worship and business institutions. Iit will be an added concern for US officials here in Washington when they learn of the arrival of a radical Buddhist monk from Myanmar to attend a BBS-organized event in Sri Lanka on September 28.
It has been reported that the radical and outspoken Buddhist monk from Myanmar Ashin Wirathu is expected to attend the BBS Great Sangha Council meeting on 28. Continue reading.....
- Radical monk in Myanmar pledges to protect global Buddhism - NY Times
- Hardline Wirathu to battle 'jihad threat' with Sri Lanka monks - Straits Times
- Ashin Wirathu Theera of Myanmar to work with BBS - Daily Miror Sri Lanka
- Sri Lanka nationalists to host controversial Myanmar monk - AFP
- Buddhist hardliners meet in Colombo - Bangkok Post
Myanmar Military speeds up release of children
UNICEF Press release - 25 September 2014
The Myanmar Armed Forces (“Tatmadaw”) today released 109 children from the armed forces, demonstrating its continued commitment to professionalise its security forces, ensuring that they become and remain ‘child free’. The discharge, which was attended by Union Minister for Defence, Lieutenant General Wai Lwin, follows soon after the release of 91 children and young people in August 2014. To date a total of 472 children and young people have been discharged since the signing of an Action Plan in June 2012, to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children. Today’s release of 109 children is the largest of such discharges.
Investment message undermined by politics, sanctions
Reuters - 24 September 2014
The rapid economic transformation of Myanmar, less than two years after transitioning from military control and opening itself to the world, is not without its rough patches, the nation's top economic minister Soe Thane said on Wednesday.
At the same time, George Soros, one of the earliest investors in Myanmar's economy and even more so its social reform, said he was troubled by the slowdown in reforms ahead of next year's elections. Still, he believes multinational companies must be involved in one of Southeast Asia's last untapped areas.
"Things have come to a standstill because the elections are now casting a shadow on activities. I hope it will restart after the elections, because it does need to be restarted." There is still a land grab under say, added the billionaire investor, and American companies need to be careful about the provenance of titles on properties in order not to fall afoul of OFAC. He also expressed concern about the racial tensions that have flared up, with anti-Muslim violence leaving hundreds dead since 2012.
However, Soros said he believes multinational corporations cannot ignore Myanmar, where the government expects foreign direct investment will grow to more than $5 billion in the fiscal year starting in April.
Soros has invested several million dollars through businesses run by Serge Pun, chairman of the SPA Group, he said, but not directly. "We would be eager to do it in the areas of banking, finance and agriculture. This is where we feel the country, the people, need this investment most." Continue reading.....
With Suu Kyi blocked, NLD could support Shwe Mann for President
Paul Mooney: Reuters/The Irrawaddy - 24 September 2014
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) will go into next year’s parliamentary election in Burma with no candidate for president and might even support a former general from the pro-military ruling party. One senior member of Suu Kyi’s party said it might give its backing for Shwe Mann, speaker of parliament and chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), to be put forward for the presidency.
But that would risk angering many rank-and-file NLD members, including many who were imprisoned by the military. It could risk undermining support for the country’s most popular party and its leader. “We believe there is no number two position in our party,” Han Tha Myint, a member of the NLD’s executive committee, told Reuters when asked why the party would not put up its own candidate. “No one is second to Aung San Suu Kyi.”
“I don’t believe it,” Suu Kyi told Eleven Media this morning, referring to the report. She said she found the statements and the controversial way they were strung together unbelievable.
Korean manufacturers migrating en masse to Myanmar
Korean Times - 22 September 2014
According to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), Myanmar will soon become Asia's largest manufacturing center and Korean firms should actively pursue investment opportunities there.
China used to be the hot spot in Asia for Korean investment. Tens of thousands of Korean manufacturers, large and small, rushed to set up plants in China after the two nations established diplomatic ties in 1992. They wanted to take advantage of the cheap labor and wide range of benefits given to foreign-investing firms by the Chinese government.
However, an increasing number of those companies left the world's second-largest economy for Vietnam, Indonesia and other rapidly growing Southeast Asian nations, but they have also become less enticing for Korean manufacturers because of soaring labor costs and other operating expenses. The companies are now looking for a new place to operate in and Myanmar is a viable candidate, according to KITA.
US investment remains modest since sanctions were lifted
The Irrawaddy - 20 September 2014
Investment from the United States since Washington lifted economic sanctions in 2012 remains small at US$243 million. The figure is no higher than US investment recorded in 2001, according to Naypyidaw’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) quoted by Eleven Media. However, the Wall Street Journal quoted the US Department of State recently saying “about US$612 million” had been invested since sanctions were first eased.
Even this higher figure is small compared with US$14 billion from China, US$10 billion from Thailand and US$4.7 billion from Singapore. One reason for the small official US figure is that many American firms are investing in Burma via their subsidiaries in other Asian countries, said DICA. But earlier this month the Wall Street Journal reported that despite US government encouragement, American businesses investment is “hindered by the legacy of sanctions”.
The Mujahid Rebellion in Arakan
An internal British Foreign Office analysis made in 1952
Derek Tonkin reviews an internal memorandum prepared by the Research Department of the Foreign Office in late 1952. The analysis is of particular interest because it was intended solely for the confidential use of the British Government in the formulation of its policy on Burma. For that reason its judgements on the situation in Arakan merit close attention. In particular it highlights the situation of what the memorandum described as "Arakan Mohamedans", the indigenous Muslim settlers in the former Kingdom of Arakan, in relation to the later arrivals under British rule of "Chittagonian" Muslims.
The "Arakan Mohamedans" or "Yakhaing Kala" were in the process of taking the name "Rwangya", but with a (probably) different etymology to the as yet unknown designation "Rohingya" which was to gain currency at a later date.
- Rohingya, national identities in Burma: Carlos Sardiña Galache - New Mandala
- The Rohingya and their identity: Aman Ullah - Rohingya Blogger
Derek Tonkin writes: Aman Ullah writes frequently for Rohingya Blogger and presents the standard 'Rohingya' case for recognition. In his article he states: "The Rohingya are a nation with a population of more than 3 million (both home and abroad) having a supporting history, separate culture, civilization, language and literature, historically settled territory and reasonable size of population and area."
The British colonial view was to regard the Muslim population of Arakan as secondary and of mainly Bengali origin, a result of inward flows from Bengal over 400 years or more, while acknowledging that "the phenomenon is as much an annexation of part of India by Burma as an invasion of Akyab [northern Arakan] by Indians" - 1921 Census Report Part I Page 220.