Ms Ma Thanegi's Rules of Good Political Etiquette
covering burma and southeast asia
Friday, January 28, 2022
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Ms Ma Thanegi's Rules of Good Political Etiquette


By Dr Kyi May Kaung Friday, November 23, 2001


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In response to questioning from RFA about this difference, she said that she got the numbers from "some garment industry association". During the evening’s question and answer session she returned to this "women and children" point, which seemed to be an attempt to appeal to the audience’s softside. By then it must have been obvious to her that her talk had not received a good reception from the forty to fifty people who attended, all of whom had been required to pre-register. After Ma Thanegi's talk there was complete silence in the room, with no one making a move towards even a semblance of polite applause. After a few seconds of obvious surprise, she seemed to regain her composure and the moderator introduced the next speaker. Ma Thanegi spent about 30 % of her panel time lecturing the audience on "Burmese culture," that is, on Ms. Ma Thanegi's view of Burmese culture, which incidentally coincides with the junta's view. According to Win Min, an activist in exile, this frustrated and annoyed the audience. Right at the beginning of her talk she announced her political affiliation and sympathies none too subtly by announcing that she used the term Myanmar and not Burma which she said was the term used by the English (colonialists). The Burmese dissident community who refuses to recognize the use of Myanmar sees this to be evidence of her support for the military regime. Ma Thanegi said Burmese politics is an internal affair and foreigners should not get involved in it. On the whole she spoke calmly but at times she stuttered a bit as she tried to formulate what she was trying to say and to buy time after some of the audience’s questions, which on the whole were very confrontational and aggressive. She came across, at least to me, as a careful and polished but rather opaque speaker, who goes back to the Burmese military line every time she is in a bind. At times she sounded like an old record running along in the old groove of the Burmese military's mindset. Some of her statements contradicted each other. For example in her emotional pitch using "the women and children will lose their jobs" rhetoric, at first she said that 100,000 will lose their jobs and "it's so unfair, it's so cruel." She then later said in response to a question that S926 would "make no difference to how the government acts." This seemed more like bluffing and saving face than anything else. I had a chance to talk to some democracy advocates in private and some of them felt that the junta must be in quite a crisis to be sending advocates to America in a public relations campaign. In September of this year Dr.Win Naing, based in Japan, gave a speech at Human Rights Watch in Washington DC. A DC-based analyst told me that "as Win Naing had not done his homework, and was not well prepared, his presentation more or less flopped". Analysts feel that Ma Thanegi was sent on this tour because of that recent failure. Win Min, who heard Dr Win Naing’s speech, said that although Ma Thanegi was better prepared she still was not adequately prepared to handle the tough questions from democracy activists and former political prisoners. In a recent interview with the Myanmar Times Lt Gen Khin Nyunt pleaded for withdrawal of sanctions. Myanmar Times also ran interviews with local businessmen on the possible impact of S926. The Myanmar Chamber of Commerce also sent pleas to President George W. Bush. The junta seems desperate to prevent S926 from being passed and Ma Thanegi's trip looks like it is part of an orchestrated lobbying strategy by the junta. The other two speakers on the panel were Brian Joseph, of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Burmese analyst David Steinberg of Georgetown University who helped organize the event. Brian Joseph's speech was a strong and clearly in favor of democratic change in Burma. He stressed the point made by Aung Din and Free Burma Coalition members that if the release of political prisoners were to continue at this rate, it would take a decade for all 2000 political prisoners to be released. David Steinberg, the evening’s third speaker, did not take a clear side in the debate, something he is known for, but he appeared more supportive of the democratic majority in the room than he has been in the past. One well- known academic said in private that Steinberg has "fire on one shoulder and water on the other" a famous Burmese saying. Others feel that Steinberg remains neutral in hopes of eventually becoming the US Ambassador in Myanmar. Steinberg did agree with one comment from Ma Thanegi's Far Eastern Economic Review article about sanctions. He said that it is quite naive to think that economic assistance alone would automatically lead to political changes. He cited examples of East Asian authoritarianism and suggested a well-rounded approach for Burma. Some young activists, however, expressed to me in private that "on the panel there were two people for the junta and only one (Mr.


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