Tomorrow, parliamentary by-elections will be held in Burma, with participation of the National League for Democracy, the party that in 1990 won general elections with a clear majority. The regime refused to acknowledge the results back then, repressed the opposition and continued their reign which, despite sanctions imposed by most ‘liberal states’, managed to do just fine by inviting ‘non-liberal’ states to invest in the country’s energy and resource extraction industries.
Several Indian and South Korean corporations (some of them partially state-owned) also invested heavily in the energy sector, and thereby helped sustain a regime that advanced developments in resource extraction, such as the Yadana and Shwe gas projects, with little consideration for their citizens’ rights to life and freedom.
What does this make South Korea and India? And what of the on-going investment of Western private businesses and state enterprises in other ‘non-liberal’ states? How easy is it to draw the line between a liberal and a non-liberal state? And who decides when a non-liberal state ‘advances’ to ‘liberal state’-status?
If we go by the commercial liberalism argument, engaging non-liberal states in commerce and stimulating economic interdependence should lay the foundation for a peaceful future. Burma certainly appears ready for the opportunity.
But peace for whom? Are we just talking about peaceful co-existence of states? “Democracies don’t go to war with each other”! Where’s the point when internally these democracies are at war with their own citizens?
It will be interesting to follow developments in Burma (or Myanmar?). Aung San Suu Kyi herself seems not overtly optimistic, suggesting that the elections will neither be free nor fair. Is the regime just playing a joke?