WASHINGTON – Increasing foreign investments and creating peace will be key to Myanmar’s economic development under its newly empowered NLD government, a policy adviser and former U.S. ambassador said Monday, but the country’s powerful military and resistance to foreign influence may prove a challenge.
Last month, Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi formed an advisory commission on the peace process that included international experts; last week she visited the U.S., leading President Barack Obama to remove U.S. financial sanctions . Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party ended decades of military rule when it won the election by a landslide last November, has made ending the country’s civil wars a major priority.
“She said without peace, we cannot have economic development, and that is correct,” said Priscilla Clapp, a senior adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace during a talk at George Washington University. “… Once [Burma] can get themselves on a better economic foundation with help from foreign investors, they’ll wind up being a very wealthy country.”
But the goals have been difficult to achieve.
The military is still at war with several ethnic minority groups and violence among the previously repressed groups has actually increased since the previous regime lessened security efforts, Clapp said.
One of the NLD’s solutions was to implement the Rakhine State Advisory Commission, headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, to make recommendations about peace efforts in the Rakhine state. Commission members also include three foreign experts.
This has helped Suu Kyi to relieve the “international pressure” on Myanmar by explaining the complexity of the peacekeeping issue and receiving international help, Clapp said. However, nationalists, including parliament members, have criticized the decision for its inclusion of foreign experts.
Police outposts in Rakhine were attacked on Sunday, and the military and police counterattacked Monday, killing seven Rohingya Muslims, as reported by the New York Times, and leading to concerns from human rights groups of increased chaos and abuses.
Meanwhile, the recent lifting of U.S. sanctions has set Myanmar on the path to an economy “based on free market principles,” Clapp said, albeit in very early stages.
However, human rights groups have criticized the move, saying the U.S. has relinquished significant leverage over Myanmar’s military officials and their cronies whose business interests had been blacklisted under the sanctions.
“The arrival of the NLD government has begun to uncover a lot of the problems that they inherited from the military, and they didn’t expect it to be as bad as what they’ve found, particularly on the economic side,” Clapp said. “So the NLD government has a really big job on its hands…overcoming all this detritus the military left behind. And they have to do it in a way that they don’t throw it in the face of the military today.”