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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek

MARCH 31, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 12

Inside 'Secret' Meetings
The Chilston conferences to engage Yangon
By ROGER MITTON Yangon

 
  ALSO IN ASIAWEEK

COVER: Seismic Changes
Can president-elect Chen Shui-bian meet the historic challenges posed by a changing Taiwan - and by China?
The Challenge: Now comes the hard part
Reality Check: Beijing will have to deal with the new Taiwan
Profile: Chen's split personality

Editorial: Taiwan and China have reason aplenty to make peace
Editorial: Asia needs new policies to combat prostitution

THE NATIONS
South Asia: Clinton to India and Pakistan - Start Talking
'Limited War': Don't let the term fool you
Philippines: Sister Christine vs. Estrada - yet another scandal
Extended Interview: Salamat Hashim calls for independence
Myanmar: Behind the secret "Chilston" meetings
Inside Story: Asia's "Insiders" - four people who have blown the whistle on wrongdoing
Viewpoint: A Malaysian race for Islamization?

ARTS & SCIENCES
People: Sumo's big brother calls it quits
Heritage: The struggle to save Penang's old George Town
Art: Digital works blur the line between tech and expression
Books: Why healthcare was so bad in Suharto's Indonesia
Health: Noni - The craze over a smelly green fruit
Newsmakers: Thai "List of Shame" riles the privileged

TECHNOLOGY
Games: Microsoft's X-factor
Computing: IBM's Deep Blue man is now into e-commerce
Cutting Edge: An e-book horror story

BUSINESS
Bankruptcy: The court-ordered restructuring of TPI suggests Thailand is coming to grips with deadbeat borrowers
Room to Improve: Inadequate laws in Indonesia and Korea
No Hype: Can Singapore's Pacific Internet regain investor favor?
Renong: The Malaysian conglomerate sells off key assets
Business Buzz: A deal to lift Singapore's spirits

Investing: How rising U.S. interest rates will affect Asia

It all started at Chilston Park in southeast England in October 1998. Then, as now, a depressing political stalemate existed in Myanmar, with the repressive military junta disinclined to deal with the pro-democracy forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi, in turn in no mood to compromise with the generals. Enter Britain's late Foreign Office minister of state, Derek Fatchett. He quietly convened "Chilston-1." Deep in the Kent countryside, Fatchett and his ministerial counterparts like Thailand's Sukhumbhand Paribatra - along with five Yangon-based foreign ambassadors plus U.N. and World Bank officials - brainstormed what to do next. "The point I made at Chilston Park was that the old policy of isolation and sanctions had not worked," recalls Sukhumbhand. "Maybe it was time to try other options." He was backed by Japan and Australia. But the U.S. and Britain, avid proponents of a strong sanctions policy against Myanmar, resisted. As a compromise, they hit on the notion of a "carrot-and-stick" approach, whereby - using the good offices of the U.N. and the World Bank - Yangon would be offered up to $1 billion in return for political concessions. At the same time they would maintain face - and avoid riling powerful pro-Suu Kyi lobbies at home - by keeping their own sanctions in force until real democratization measures kicked in.

The strategy did not work. The generals did not budge and claimed to be offended at the notion that they could be bought. Since then, those who favor engagement have been busy. Bangkok plans to set up a task force with Yangon to combat AIDS. The Malaysians have agreed to accept industrial trainees from Myanmar. Last week, the Red Cross began monitoring labor camps and continues to laud its access to prisons. On May 1-2 Yangon will host an Asian economic summit, with ministers from ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea. The Portuguese, who currently hold the E.U. presidency, are pushing for Myanmar to be included in an upcoming ASEAN-E.U. senior officials' meeting in Lisbon. France, which next takes over the E.U. presidency and is a robust pro-engagement advocate, backs the Portuguese move. The most active of all are the Japanese, who are helping out by developing infrastructure like health and education. "We don't support the junta," says a senior Japanese official, "but carrot-and-stick is not working."

Tell that to the British and the Americans. Earlier this month they convened Chilston-2 to try to breathe life into carrot-and-stick. It didn't work. The 14 countries who gathered at the Sheraton Walker Hill Hotel in Seoul split into two groups, with those favoring engagement remaining unswayed by the sanctioneers. But participants were united in appreciating a radical departure from Chilston-1, namely keynote presentations by two American academics, David Steinberg and Mary Callahan. The duo are both relatively balanced Myanmar experts, who rightly find the military regime repellent, but are also unafraid to criticize the other side. Last year, Steinberg chastised Suu Kyi for saying the World Bank was wrong to make a study of Myanmar's economic situation (the democracy activist believes that even critical studies serve to legitimize the regime). Likewise, Callahan has pointed out that the junta's crackdown on Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has left the party with a charismatic leader - but no means to organize beyond her compound in Yangon. Says one European delegate: "These experts' presentations were very balanced, so we avoided political confrontations which nobody wanted."

Still, the split on how to proceed was pretty glaring. Of the hardliners, led by Britain, the U.S., Norway and Canada, one Asian delegate says: "They stick to the same line - that political change is a precondition for aid." Whereas Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Germany and Australia - supported by France, Malaysia and the Philippines - disagree. Says one of their number: "We are happy if we see some development in the political arena, but that cannot be a precondition for aid. We should not pressure the junta, but explore how we can persuade it to change."

On March 16 most Yangon-based delegates got together again for a roundtable recap. Says a European participant: "Now we know where we all stand. The worry that somebody is doing something behind the backs of others has been excluded. In this respect Chilston-2 was very good." Expect a Chilston-3.

Who's What
The second meeting on Myanmar was held at the Sheraton Walker Hill Hotel in Seoul March 5-6. Delegates from 14 countries, the U.N. and the World Bank attended, plus two academics. The conclave split between pro-sanctioneers favoring isolating Yangon and pragmatists seeking to engage the generals. A breakdown:

HARDLINERS
Britain: Leader of the tough-guy pack. Sent a trio of heavies: John Jenkins, ambassador in Yangon, his predecessor and now the foreign ministry's Southeast Asia head Robert Gordon, plus regional expert Rosalind Marsden.
U.S.: Champion of sanctions. Sent a high-powered delegation led by deputy assistant secretary of state Ralph "Skip" Boyce, Yangon embassy boss Priscilla Clapp and presidential assistant Eric Schwartz.
Supporting Cast: Canada, Norway (strongly), Portugal, Sweden (tepidly).

CONCILIATORS
Japan: Foremost engagement advocate. Sent Yangon ambassador Asaki Kazuo and the foreign ministry's Southeast Asia pointman from Tokyo.
South Korea: The host. Keen to see movement. Represented by two top foreign ministry officials and MP Kim Sang Woo.
Australia: Sent ambassador Lyndall McLean (the savviest diplomat in Yangon) and a Tokyo embassy minister.
Thailand: Represented by Bangkok MP Noppadon Pattama (secretary to Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan), plus U.N. ambassador Asda Jayanama.
Supporters: France, Germany, Malaysia, Philippines (all steadfast).

NEUTRALISTS
The U.N.: Both current and past Yangon resident representatives, Patrice Coeur-Bizot and Siba Das, attended.
The World Bank: Sent executive Bradley Babson.
Academics: A pragmatic American duo of Myanmar experts.

NO-SHOWS
China: Myanmar's staunchest ally and strategic partner.
Indonesia: Heeded the generals' call not to attend.
Singapore: Yangon's biggest business partner and friend-in-need.
Myanmar: The country they were all talking about.

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