Burma at a Crossroads
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Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Interview

Burma at a Crossroads


By Mark Canning Monday, January 1, 2007


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Doesn’t the UK lose credibility when it is one minute criticizing Burma and the next pouring money into the country?

A: Investment figures are a minefield in whatever country you care to mention. The ones you quote are no exception, and I’m puzzled why commentators who are rightly skeptical of other State Peace and Development Council statistics choose to attach such weight to these. The fact is we don’t really know what lies behind the headline figures, and we are unlikely to find out because they are not made public. But everything we do know suggests they are misleading. In the first place, they are out of date. The figures for the past five years show the UK and its overseas territories as the fifth largest investor, with a total that is a fraction of the average UK investment in other Asean countries. The figures are based on investments that were approved, rather than necessarily taken forward. They contain investments by UK companies who withdrew long ago. They almost certainly capture a range of Asian investment made via British Overseas Territories (which can of course be switched at will as tax and other conditions suit). If you look closely you will see that a single UK “deal” in 2003 accounts for more than 95 percent of UK inflow between 2001-2006. We’re certainly not in the investment premier league, in fact we were probably relegated from division four [the lowest] long ago.

Q: The British government stands accused of channeling funds to the 1988 Generation Students group, some of whom have recently been arrested. What is your response?

A: There is no substance to this. We have made no such payments, nor would we do so for the purposes alleged, so where these stories came from is something of a mystery. We do, however, know something of the pressures that informers are placed under, so it would not be a huge surprise if unsubstantiated rumor had translated itself into hard fact in this case.

Q: The London-based Burma Campaign UK released a report on October 12 to coincide with that of the British government on human rights. It said that the UK should be more proactive in tackling Burma. Is the UK doing enough?

A: The wave of bad news coming out of this country, particularly in recent weeks, gives rise to an inevitable sense of frustration. This is of course not a “UK issue” specifically, but one of broad international concern. Looked at objectively, however, Britain is playing an active and important role both in terms of trying to bring about positive political change and in providing support for efforts to address some of the humanitarian challenges that the country confronts. 

On the first track, we are obviously doing all we can here and in London to bring our concerns to the notice of the government. We are throwing our weight behind the efforts of the UN in the Security Council and, with our EU partners, working to forge consensus on the need for change. As the decision to add Burma to the Security Council agenda and discussions in New York show, there is now a high degree of agreement that the current situation is unsustainable. We are separately working within the country to support efforts to combat serious healthcare and other problems. The UK is one of the largest contributors to the US $100 million Three Diseases Fund and has shown real leadership in that field.

Q: Neither you nor anyone from the British Embassy attended the opening of the current session of the National Convention. Why was that?

A: As Mr Gambari stressed, the process needs to become a good deal more transparent and inclusive if it is to be recognized as credible in the eyes of the international community.

Q: The Burma government has set aside plots of land for foreign embassies in the new capital Naypyidaw. Does the British Embassy plan to relocate?

A: We have no immediate plans but are obviously following things closely and will need at some point to consider with our European partners what the options might be.



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