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Myanmar seeks own growth model
Publication Date : 28-09-2013
All politics being local even when politicians are abroad, it was not surprising that Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's public pronouncements, during her visit to Singapore, were made largely with citizens back home in mind. Myanmar voters undoubtedly provided the home audience for her view that economic growth alone would not ensure Myanmar's democratic transition, which calls for further political reforms. Her argument is palpably correct, but in placing so great an emphasis on political reforms, she perhaps was less reassuring to foreign investors than they had expected.
Similarly, Suu Kyi was right in asserting the fundamental importance of national reconciliation in Myanmar's ongoing transition, but this is an area in which outsiders can do nothing. Rather, foreign businessmen and well-wishers of Myanmar are watching how the authorities put in place a strong legal framework to protect investments. It is such tangible moves that the rest of the world, particularly the country's neighbours in Asean, are interested in because they would facilitate international support for Myanmar's nascent economic reconstruction.
Transparency and accountability are key pillars of the edifice of good governance on which the new Myanmar must be built. Suu Kyi's cautionary reminder, of the need to avoid taking an overly optimistic view of its economic climate, was a display of honesty and realism from a leader known to say what she believes. The international community would take hope from her invitation to play a role in realising Myanmar's growth potential, which is based not only on its natural resources but also on the untapped enthusiasm, energy and potential of its people.
Essentially, the Nobel laureate was asserting Myanmar's right to pursue its own growth model, learning from others but without becoming captive to their choices. This mindset came through clearly in her candid observations on the Singapore institutions that she visited during her trip. The idea of copying them wholesale would not be commended by Singaporeans who are aware of Myanmar's different historical and political circumstances. However, there is increasing congruence of the economic choices being made by countries at varying stages of development in a globalising world. This trajectory suggests that the experiences of Myanmar's Asean neighbours are not entirely irrelevant to the way in which it rejoins the world economy. But ultimately it is up to Myanmar's political leadership, supported by the breadth and depth of the consensus it creates among citizens, to decide exactly how to bring the country back into the economic mainstream of Southeast Asia.