Flying to Burma
covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, December 10, 2023

Flying to Burma



There are lingering doubts in some circles about how real is reform in Burma. Hence, speaking to the press after a successful meeting of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) between Burma and Indonesia recently, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa chose his words carefully.

“I think there is less democratic deficit at the end of 2011 but it’s still a work in progress,” he said of Burma. “It’s not a done thing.”

But maybe that was what the JCBC was all about. Democracy is not a done thing in Burma but the more deeply it is engaged with a democracy advocate like Indonesia, the more likely will its leaders make reform stick.

Probably that is also why democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi decided to participate in the political process even before reforms are firmly locked in. The more respect Burma gets from the world because of her legitimizing participation, the more Burma is motivated to act respectably. It’s a reasonable gamble.

Among the accomplishments of the JCBC cited in press reports, one item strikes me: the agreement to cooperate in the field of tourism. When you talk tourism, you talk airlines. In this instance, Burma walks the talk.

As early as July last year, Myanmar Airways International announced plans to launch direct flights from Rangoon to Jakarta and Bali, and to subsequently offer Rangoon-Singapore-Jakarta flight services. These plans are based on an air agreement signed between the two countries back in July, 1977. MAI also announced plans to open flights to South Korea, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

There’s reason for that audacity. A few days earlier, Suu Kyi issued a statement that responsible tourism to Burma should be encouraged so long as it promoted the welfare of the common people, conserved the environment and offered insights to the country’s sociocultural and political life.

You’d think Garuda Indonesia would instantly reciprocate, given Indonesian’s commitment to cooperate with Burma in this field. But no. Knowledgeable sources say the Indonesian flag carrier has no intention of opening a direct flight route to Rangoon.

From a purely business point of view, you can’t fault Garuda Indonesia. While tourism contributes 12 percent of Burma’s national income, it is really not much: only some 217,000 tourists, mostly from neighboring Thailand, visited Burma in fiscal year 2010-2011. It appears that the revenue potential is not there.

But from a historical and public relations perspective, the idea has wings. The fact is that Burmese and Indonesian civil aviation have a shared early history.

The first airplane ever owned by Indonesia, a Dakota aircraft named Seulawah, meaning “Gold Mountain,” because it was bought with gold collected by the Acehnese people, was registered in Burma in the late 1940s as RI 001. It had gone to Calcutta for repairs and couldn’t return to Indonesia because of the Dutch blockade. Chartered by the government of Burma, it flew between Calcutta and Rangoon bearing the livery of “Indonesian Airways.”

Together with three other aircraft (all of them Dakotas) that plane was later used to break the Dutch blockade in support of Indonesia’s revolutionary war. With the transfer of sovereignty from the Netherlands to Indonesia, on Dec. 28, 1949, RI 001 flew to Yogyakarta to fetch the founding fathers of the Republic. On the same day they landed in triumph at Kemayoran Airport in Jakarta.

By then, President Sukarno had renamed the aircraft “Garuda” after an allusion to Vishnu’s divine eagle in a popular poem of the day. Garuda Indonesia was incorporated on March 31, 1950, but its official founding day remains Jan. 26, 1949, the day RI 001 first flew.

Soon after the incorporation of Garuda Indonesia, one of the Dakotas, the RI 007, was presented to the government of Burma as a token of gratitude for its role in the struggle to preserve Indonesian independence.

Thus a Garuda Indonesia route to Rangoon is worth considering. Imagine the impact of a Garuda commemorative flight taking off from Jakarta and landing to a festive welcome in Rangoon by Burmese dignitaries, including Suu Kyi. That’s a public relations dream.

During the early days of Indonesia’s democratic transition and as the country was recovering from negative economic growth, the selling point was: “A dollar invested in Indonesia is a dollar invested in democracy.” That is also true of Burma today.

Jamil Maidan Flores is a poet, fiction writer, playwright and essayist who has worked as a speechwriter for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1992.

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Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
" values artificially inflated in a country that has stolen private and national properties." CORRECT! it started with ShuMaung and the tradition continued.
Where is the recompense for those whose properties had been looted?

Bill Gov Wrote:
A dollar invested in the country is a dollar invested in democracy?/?/?
All investments carry a certain level of risks but in Burma, it is 99% risks with the investors playing the Russian roulette where the banking system is dubious, the kyats value is highly questionable, property values artificially inflated in a country that has stolen private and national properties and that has literally no gold reserves in the country's coffer and where laws are in the mouths of the ruling parties.
In a country where democracy has no intrinsic value, where then is the value for the dollar invested in the country!

zulu_mango Wrote:
Thanks for the piece of aviation history between Indonesia and Burma.

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