Burma/Myanmar

Apparently it’s “Burma Week” at HKU and possibly beyond. When I first rushed past the posters and stalls I thought irritably that I just don’t have time with these damn courses, but today I was finally coaxed to listen to an openair lecture outside the library. I wish we could copy these openair lectures I have seen so many of here back in Edinburgh – but suppose the weather would be a major hindrance.

Very interesting talk, with speakers from a HK based free Burma organisation and two professors, all of whom seemed v knowledgable. There were also Burmese students and others from the area in the audience. The points I especially remember being discussed were:

– dichotomy of two world approaches towards the country, summarised as “Burma approach” by west led by US with focus on sanctions etc, and “Myanmar approach” from Asean led by China who were not keen to interfere directly. Challenge of unifying approaches to stop them undermining eachother and lead to more constructive outcomes.

– Question of Rohingya boatpeople who apparently lived in the area since at least 1300’s, now being denied citizenship and routinely discriminated against by Burmese junta with devastating consequences, how this problem relates to Burmese (esp colonial) history, and the region generally.

– Need for Asean and countries in the area to be closely involved with Burma’s future, given that they have more direct interest, Burma cares more about what they think, Burmese studying in these countries are more likely to return, etc.

– Issue of foreign investment and tourism, pros and cons, general concensus that anything contributing to opening up is good, but need to be socially responsible. Boycott of tourism widely considered outdated so long as not irresponsible tourism.

– Discussion of 2010 elections, divided opinion over whether should be boycotted and delcared a sham, or welcomed as the only thing on the table, and since democratic institutions tend to take on a life of their own and lead to more democratic openings.

Thoroughly enjoyed the talk. Until previously, my knowledge and interest in Burma stemmed from just a few events… reading From the Land of Green Ghosts by Pascal Khoo Thwe at high school and have him come for a talk… listening to Juliette and Tim’s discussions and lobbying on Burma at Edinburgh… and then stumbling into the Burmese border in a Bulangzu dominated area in southern Yunnan last December, and for the first time meeting a Burmese minority on their own soil. (even if only about 10cm into it!)

Looking forward to finding out more in the future!

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