Busi­ness Bri­tain con­tin­ues to suppo uni­fied fu­ture for Myanma

“Why would we want to dis­mem­ber Myan­mar? We’ve spent most of the last twenty years strug­gling to have a uni­fied, demo­cratic fu­ture for Myan­mar.”

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Business - 8 THOMP­SON CHAU JUNE 8, 2018

t.chau@mm­times.com

BRI­TAIN has spent the last two decades sup­port­ing Myan­mar to have a uni­fied, peace­ful, pros­per­ous and demo­cratic fu­ture, and there is no rea­son to be­lieve the UK has turned its back over the Rakhine cri­sis, Bri­tain’s de­part­ing en­voy said, urg­ing peo­ple not to be­lieve in un­founded con­spir­acy the­o­ries.

In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view with The Myan­mar Times, out­go­ing Bri­tish Am­bas­sador Andrew Pa­trick spoke at length about the chal­lenges Myan­mar faces regarding the Rakhine cri­sis, the work of Ukaid, eco­nomic re­forms and how the UK will con­tinue to sup­port Myan­mar’s devel­op­ment. Given the change in mood and cir­cum­stances in this coun­try since the Rakhine cri­sis broke out, the en­voy also firmly re­sponded to un­founded con­spir­acy the­o­ries and dis­pelled the myths and mis­con­cep­tions which have been all the rage of late.

At the time of this in­ter­view last month, on May 8, the UK had just wel­comed the first Asian, the first Mus­lim and the first per­son from an ethnic mi­nor­ity back­ground to hold one of the great of­fices of state as Sa­jid Javid took the helm of the Home Of­fice. Mean­while, the coun­try, like Myan­mar, is led by a fe­male leader, as Theresa May is the sec­ond woman prime min­is­ter for Bri­tain. Am­bas­sador Pa­trick ex­plained why diver­sity and equal­ity mat­ters.

“Al­most ev­ery coun­try in the world is di­verse these days – We are, most of Europe is, and the United States cer­tainly is. If you were go­ing to utilise your peo­ple’s skills, you would have to em­brace diver­sity,” he said. If dif­fer­ences widen, there is a risk of con­flicts. There’s also a moral ar­gu­ment: “We should treat other peo­ple equally, what­ever their race or re­li­gion – that’s the sort of moral ar­gu­ment we subscribe to.”

With the po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion and open­ing up, Myan­mar is now hav­ing a de­bate on what it means to be “Myan­mar”. Eth­nic­ity and re­li­gion play a big part here.

For the UK, one so­lu­tion is mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, which is the idea that “you can be Bri­tish and have a cul­ture within that, that rep­re­sents your her­itage.” It is not plain-sail­ing and prob­lems arise. But that re­mains an im­por­tant part of be­ing a mod­ern coun­try. “I think the most suc­cess­ful coun­tries have found a way to ad­dress this is­sue of eth­nic­ity, and that is im­por­tant if you want to grow,” he con­tin­ued.

The UK’S De­part­ment for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment (DFID) has been sup­port­ing var­i­ous aid pro­grammes in Myan­mar, many of which fo­cus on sup­port­ing the “soft­ware”, such as fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion, fe­male em­pow­er­ment and sup­port­ing peo­ple with lep­rosy and dis­abil­i­ties, among oth­ers.

The diplo­mat stressed that Bri­tish aid sup­ports the de­vel­op­ments across the en­tire coun­try, in­clud­ing Rakhine as well as ev­ery sin­gle state and re­gion in Myan­mar. To date, the UK has con­tributed £129 mil­lion (US$174 mil­lion) to re­solve the Rakhine cri­sis since Au­gust 25 last year, while DFID had pledged an ad­di­tion of £70 mil­lion for the refugees liv­ing in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh. The fresh hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­port came ahead of the loom­ing cy­clone and mon­soon sea­son, along­side help to vac­ci­nate al­most one mil­lion peo­ple against deadly cholera.

At the same time, DFID pro­vides ex­ten­sive re­sources for ethnic Rakhine com­mu­ni­ties.

“Peo­ple of­ten con­fuse hu­man­i­tar­ian aid and aid as a whole,” Am­bas­sador Pa­trick said. On the one hand, hu­man­i­tar­ian aid refers to pro­vid­ing food and medicines to peo­ple who are in a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, such as those who can­not work and have no ac­cess to hos­pi­tals. “In Rakhine, the peo­ple who are in that sit­u­a­tion are mainly Mus­lims. There are some Rakhine, but mainly the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion. So, ob­vi­ously, the hu­man­i­tar­ian aid has been go­ing mainly to the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion,” he ex­plained.

On the other hand, UK’S devel­op­ment aid mainly goes to the ethnic Rakhine com­mu­ni­ties. DFID op­er­ates two ma­jor pro­grammes in Rakhine State - the Dana Fa­cil­ity and the Liveli­hoods and Food se­cu­rity trust fund (LIFT), a multi-donor fund. Dana with £2 mil­lion specif­i­cally for Rakhine is work­ing on im­prov­ing the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment, fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion, ca­pac­ity build­ing for do­mes­tic busi­nesses, in­vest­ment pro­mo­tion and trade fa­cil­i­ta­tion. Mean­while, LIFT, with around £52 mil­lion for Rakhine, has projects cov­er­ing 14 out of 17 town­ships in the state, work­ing mostly (98

The is­sue of cit­i­zen­ship for the Ro­hingya is some­thing that peo­ple in Myan­mar “of­ten mis­un­der­stand about the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s po­si­tion”, Am­bas­sador Pa­trick ex­plained.

“We use the word ‘Ro­hinga’ to re­fer to the Mus­lims in north­ern Rakhine. And the rea­son we do that is be­cause we think any group should have the right to call it­self by a name that it wants. But when we do that, we’re not say­ing we ac­cept or en­dorse all of the his­tory that they talk about, nei­ther do we re­ject it.

“We’re not mak­ing a de­ci­sion on that. We’re also not ar­gu­ing for par­tic­u­lar sets of ethnic rights for these peo­ple. But we are ar­gu­ing for their hu­man rights and for those el­i­gi­ble for their rights to cit­i­zen­ship. Of course, we have a very un­for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion where peo­ple who had cit­i­zen­ship and peo­ple who still even have cit­i­zen­ship aren’t able to move around, their ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and health­care and so on is not what it should be for some­one who’s a cit­i­zen. The so­lu­tion is to treat peo­ple who are cit­i­zens equally. What­ever they are and what­ever ethnic or re­li­gious group they come from. That’s what the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is ask­ing for. We’re not ask­ing for par­tic­u­lar ethnic rights. We are ask­ing for cit­i­zen­ship and hu­man rights,” the diplo­mat clar­i­fied.

Con­spir­acy the­o­ries on speed Eleven Me­dia printed an ed­i­to­rial on May 1 ar­gu­ing that “some ef­forts of United Na­tions, West coun­tries and Bangladesh con­cern­ing Rakhine State is more than the case of send­ing back refugees and re­solv­ing the prob­lems… Their act can desta­bilise Myan­mar and lead to dis­in­te­gra­tion of Myan­mar into pieces.”

“Why would we want to dis­mem­ber Myan­mar?” Am­bas­sador Pa­trick re­but­ted firmly.

“We’ve spent most of the last twenty years strug­gling to have a uni­fied, demo­cratic fu­ture for Myan­mar. Why would we sud­denly be try­ing to split Myan­mar apart? I re­ally don’t think that’s real,” he went on, urg­ing Myan­mar not to em­brace un­founded con­spir­acy the­o­ries.

“It’s al­ways com­mon for peo­ple to be­lieve that the world has some plan and that ev­ery­body is work­ing to­gether on some se­cret plan for the fu­ture. I’ve been in diplo­macy for over thirty years, and a lot of things are co­in­ci­dences. You may think but that these things are all linked and there is some plan but ac­tu­ally, it’s peo­ple re­act­ing, it’s peo­ple deal­ing with the things that are on their desks ev­ery day. It’s not about hav­ing a great plan to un­der­mine any coun­try.

“I would urge peo­ple not to look for se­cret plans when there are other ex­pla­na­tions,” he re­marked.

Eleven Me­dia’s ed­i­to­rial is not the only crit­i­cism.

Last Oc­to­ber, The Ir­rawaddy’s news ed­i­tor Kyaw Phyo Tha, in a com­men­tary piece “Bri­tain is still be­ing beastly to its for­mer colony Myan­mar”, claimed that Bri­tain is try­ing to “bully the coun­try be­cause it once colonised”.

“I hon­estly don’t think on the UK side that what’s hap­pen­ing has any­thing to do with our his­tory,” the en­voy said in re­sponse. Look at Swe­den, other Euro­pean coun­tries and the US and one can see that they share Bri­tain’s con­cerns and po­si­tions. Hence, it has noth­ing to do with the past.

Nat­u­rally, be­cause of the his­tor­i­cal cir­cum­stances, most jour­nal­ists and par­lia­men­tar­i­ans in the UK are in­ter­ested in Myan­mar than oth­ers. The UK has paid more at­ten­tion to this coun­try’s de­vel­op­ments.

“In pre­vi­ous years, I think peo­ple would have seen that as positive – the UK lead­ing the cam­paign against military rule, we sup­ported hu­man rights in Burma for the ethnic groups and for the ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tion. At that stage, we were get­ting all the praise. Now we’re sup­port­ing the hu­man rights of the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion of Rakhine and peo­ple feel dif­fer­ently about it. But I don’t think there’s been a great change in the way the UK be­haves; per­haps the change is in the per­cep­tion of that here [in Myan­mar],” the diplo­mat ob­served.

We’ve spent most of the last twenty years strug­gling to have a uni­fied, demo­cratic fu­ture for Myan­mar. Why would we sud­denly be try­ing to split Myan­mar apart?

In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view with Times, out­go­ing Bri­tish Am­bas­sador Andrew Pa­trick speaks at length about the coun­try’s chal­lenges and dif­fi­cul­ties. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

JUNE 8, 2018 BUSI­NESS 11

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