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Burmese crisis: A case for democracy
Asia is currently the fastest growing region in the world, and is estimated to remain so for many decades to come. Many people have called this time that we live in the Asian Century, and we are only 7 years into the century. If the predictions of the world's prominent statesmen, bankers, economists and entrepreneurs are correct, what we shall see over the next few decades is continuous growth in Asian economies, fueled primarily by China and India, as well as technological advances led by China, India, Japan and the Asian tigers. However, the booming economy needs to be sustained by social and political stability, not just nationally but regionally as well. A united Korea, an integrated and progressive ASEAN, an economically strong India, and a socially reformed China are all good reasons to pursue democracy in Asia.
Democracy will keep booming Asia in pace with the West socially. In turn, Asian economy will create opportunities for many people across the globe, especially to businesses and investors in the West. However, the recent violence ignited by the Burmese military government has raised concerns from world leaders about the democracy process in the nation. In this short essay, I hope to highlight the areas where the military junta has failed or fared badly, in addition to its political oppression tactics, which have already invited worldwide criticisms.
Corruption is a form of injustice to the people. The 2007 report of Transparency International lists Myanmar, which ties with Somalia, as the most corrupt government in the world. Already, it is a heavy burden to be poor, but people living in highly corrupt countries face even more intense hardship. In Myanmar, where corruption and poverty intersect, people are desperately poor. Suppression of the civil society, forced labour and bribery are all tell-tale signs of corruption in Myanmar.
Endowed with abundant natural resources and fertile land, Myanmar should be one of Asia's most prosperous countries. However, corruption and government mismanagement have placed it among the 20 poorest countries in the world. Myanmar has a per capita income of $200, 10 times less than its neighbour Thailand. Some 90% of the population live on $1 a day, many people go without regular food and electricity. Unemployment rate is 10% and inflation is high, in particular the ruling military junta hiked fuel prices by 500% in August this year.
A recent report on BBC reveals that poverty is driving
thousands of Burmese to find work outside their home country:
Health, disease and drugs
Corruption, poverty and weak public health structures have denied many people in Myanmar the most basic health care services. The worsening economic situation of affected families lowers Burmese children's health and nutrition rates, which are already among the lowest in Asia. More than one million children are malnourished, 9% to 12% of them severely so. The infant mortality rate in Myanmar is 66, higher than the world's average of 49. In addition, inadequate sanitation and water treatment are also contributing to disease. The life expectancy in Myanmar is 62.1 years, which is at 10% below the world's average of 67.2 years.
Myanmar remains one of the most serious HIV epidemic centers in south-east Asia. It has the third highest adult HIV prevalence rates in the region, following Cambodia and Thailand. HIV in Myanmar is mostly spread by injecting drug use and risky sex. HIV prevalence among sex workers and IDUs are 32% and 43% respectively. Antiretroviral therapy was introduced in 2005, but only 3% of HIV/AIDS patients currently receive such treatment. In 2005, the Global Fund terminated a US$98m grant after Myanmar government restricted the travel of its staff.
After Afghanistan, Myanmar is the world's second largest producer of opium. The World Drug Report 2006 reveals Myanmar annual prevalence of opiates abuse at 0.7%, which is one of the highest in Asia.
Myanmar faces serious environmental problems. Two-thirds of its tropical forests had been eliminated by 1994. The smuggling of teakwood is the major cause of deforestation. Teak forests that have provided livelihoods for many ethnic minorities are still being rapidly destroyed by Thai loggers, causing floods and landslides. The military government has allowed massive logging and the construction of gas pipelines and other development projects, which continue to cause serious damage to the environment. Many endangered animal and plant species are facing extinction as a result of the junta's mining and logging policies, and pipeline and dam projects. Uncontrolled fishing by foreign companies to whom the junta gave fishery concessions has led to the impoverishment of the people from whole villages who depend on this activity as their only sustenance. The government's ban on public discussion of environmental issues and punishing those who try to question its policies only add to the environmental woes while deepening the generals' pockets.
Terrorism is a global threat. Containment of terrorism requires both national effort and international cooperation. The military junta's action on peaceful protesters in the past two weeks is condemned by world leaders and citizens as unacceptable, inhumane and a violation of human rights, and likened to terrorist acts by the outside world. By isolating itself from the world and failing to unite the Burmese people under its doctrine of cruelty and brutality, the military regime puts the country at risk of the import of fundamentalism and potential terrorist attacks.
The brutal treatment of its people by the Myanmar government does not befit good old Asian traditions. Asian culture balks at tyranny. Myanmar is a Buddhist country. The model of good Buddhist rulers lies in the concept of the "universal monarch" or "wheel-turning monarch" (raajaa cakkavatti). He is the benevolent ruler who governs with righteousness, and peacefully unites the world under a reign of universal justice and prosperity. He rules with virtues and kindness, not violence and fear. In fact, poverty, ill-will, violence, and wrongdoings do not exist in his domain.
The teachings of Confucius, the highly revered Chinese philosopher whose teachings has influenced East Asia for the last two millenia, also has no place for dictators. The core value of Confucian teaching is the principle of 'ren' (仁), meaning benevolence. A good ruler is a benevolent ruler, or a gentleman ruler. The ideal ruler is a "sage monarch", or a sage who governs with benevolence, ethics and trust of the people. A 'sage' in Confucianism carries no religious significance, since Confucius is a secular philosopher.
It is long overdue the Myanmar government hands over the governance of the country to its people. It is long overdue that the Myanmar military releases Aung San Suu Kyi, who was democratically elected leader of the nation 20 years ago. It is long overdue that the Burmese people are treated with dignity, that their voices are heard and their choices respected.
I hope the military generals now running the country listen to the will of the people, allow democracy in the country, hand over their powers and end the dictatorship.
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