Unrealistic expectations

When Eqyptian President Mubarak was deposed two years ago, there were massive jubilation and celebrations amongst millions of Egyptians from all walks of lives. Many expected Egypt would lead the Arab world towards a new chapter of freedom and democracy. There were  high expectations with many Western commentators praising the event  as a watershed peaceful revolution  that will bring peace, freedom (whatever it means)  and prosperity to the country and becomes the model for the region. ( see my comments almost exactly two years ago about the fate of Eqypt: https://kchew.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/eqypt-problems-ahead/ )

Those jubilant Egyptians who protested in the Tahrir Square then have been promised that democracy would solve their woes of high food prices, corruptions, low pays  and high unemployment. But Egypt is in an even  worse mess today, with situation getting from bad to worse. The government will be bankrupt soon without massive financial aid from the IMF or the rich gulf Sheikdoms, and the internal situation is far from peaceful as the different political factions are locked in bitter fights for power, creating political impasse that fuel radicalism and violent street demonstrations. Many shops and businesses in Cairo and other large cities have been vandalised, looted or closed due to the continuing unrests. And it s has become more dangerous for Eqyptian women to wonder outside  their homes nowadays. With the breakdown of social order,  violent gangs and thugs are controlling the street of Cairo.

No doubt there are many whose faith in democracy remain unshaken, believing  the situation in Egypt is just a temporary one , putting the blame on the Muslim Brotherhood organization and President Morsi for hijacking democracy.

Today, the story of democracy is focussed on the former pariah state of Myanmar. There is a sense of jubilation that this country is on the way of becoming a normal democratic country. Western politicians are lining up to visit the country, and even Obama did not fail to turn up for photo opportunity with the godess of democracy, Aung San Syu-kyi. There are lots of talks that Burma will become the next booming South East Asian country, and may even give Malaysia and Thailand  a run. The country’s current  president is reported to have pledged to transform the country into a developed state by 2030. But I think all these talks are just premature or naive  (no doubt he talks like a politician), because it’s just too simplistic to equate  democracy as the magic potion for  cure-all ills, bearing in mind the recent democratic experiences of  Eqypt, Iraq, Libya and  Afghanistan.  Heck even India today, the largest democracy in the world for the sixty years or so, is far from being a developed or middle-income country.

But undemocratic HK and  largely authoritarian Singapore have become developed states while  communist China has become a thriving middle-income country.  My opinion is that good economic growth does not really depend on having democratic credential, but is governed more by practical realities like having natural resources, human resources , geo-politics,  culture, geographic location and  good leadership. Will the system in Myanmar produce good leaders that can truly provide good governance, and not merely good at winning votes?  Lets see, but I’m not too optimistic from what I have heard.

Idealistic goals out of reach in Myanmar


A friend of mine who had just visited Myanmar cried to me, “How could Myanmar become a developed country overnight!” But what he was ironically marveling at was the local hotel prices. The price of the hotel he stays in was less than $100 per night a year ago, but has now soared to $250.

The Myanmar government’s hopes toward its country’s future development seem to have soared as high as the hotel prices. President Thein Sein has stated that he expects Myanmar will become “a modern, industrialized country” by 2030.

However, the rising price of hotels is one thing, and realizing a country’s industrialization is quite another. Due to Myanmar’s opening-up, restrictions on many things have been lifted. Investors, tourists and explorers are all swarming into this virgin territory, pushing up the prices for hotels catering to the standards of the well-off.

Myanmar needs ambition as well as earnestness. It needs more investment. At the same time, it needs well-implemented laws and policies geared to international standards.

If Myanmar wants to be like China, which has sustained its stable development for over 30 years, there should be social consensus that development is a priority. Myanmar should not have any illusions but seek its own development path that suits its development level and reality.

It is not possible for Myanmar to suddenly exceed its ASEAN neighbors such as Thailand and Malaysia. It cannot become a developed country that keeps abreast with Singapore by skipping the necessary stages on its development path and avoiding the costs that come with its development.

Therefore, the biggest challenge of Myanmar’s infant modernization process is not the speed but whether Myanmar can resist any enticement. The enticement includes the democracy advocated by Westerners and the environmental protection stressed by non-governmental organizations.

Myanmar’s reform and opening-up not only bring opportunity for development, but also make it aim beyond its grasp. Many require the country to look to the West on issues of human rights and environmental protection regardless of Myanmar’s realities.

Everyone would like to live in a country as pleasant in Switzerland. And all developing countries wish for a business foundation like the Silicon Valley in the US. But it’s nothing but a fantasy to make the two places into one.

The Silicon Valley will never move to Myanmar. And investment from Thailand will hardly put the environment as a priority. Workers in Myanmar will not earn as much as their Chinese counterparts any time soon.

The foreign investment programs in Myanmar cannot ensure that they are 100 percent environmentally friendly. According to reports from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the main reason for the economic growth in MyTaking Myanmar’s current development level into consideration, demanding Myanmar overnight reach the goals that Western developed countries took centuries to achieve will only lead to the stagnation or even retreat.

No country in the world can achieve modernization without paying the costs in human rights or environment protection. Western developed countries couldn’t make it, nor has there been any precedent in the East.

The difficulty for Myanmar is that it needs to find a development path suitable for the development of human rights and environment protection, based on the premise that development is prioritized to help the public get rid of poverty.

Myanmar doesn’t lack the potential for development. But as for how to find a development path that is best for itself, Myanmar may need to learn from its neighbors such as China, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia rather than the West.

The realization of dreams is based on an earnest attitude, but dreams that break away from reality can only stay dreams.

The author is a senior editor with the People’s Daily. He’s now stationed in Bangkok. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cnanmar is that foreign countries have increased investment in energy and minerals.


About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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