Academic commentary on Burma uprising

For the benefit of the many interested New Mandala readers I have put together a consolidated document with key quotations from some of the world’s leading Burma scholars.  There is obviously a range of opinion about the current uprising and, importantly, about its likely outcomes.   

  • Perhaps the nation most concerned about the ongoing protests, and potentially most influential in resolving them, is China, Myanmar’s most powerful neighbor. China, the host of the 2008 summer Olympic Games, “has to be on its good behavior until the Olympics,” said David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert at Georgetown University. “The old days where you sent tanks across the border are not possible today.”

Source: Laurie Goering, “Myanmar protests unlikely to bring change, analysts say” , Chicago Tribune.

  • David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert at Georgetown University in Washington, said the government’s decision to allow the protests to pass Suu Kyi’s house on Saturday is a sign “the military is not prepared, unless things get worse, to directly confront the monks in their uniforms.”

Source:20,000 March in Myanmar Against Junta”, The Guardian.

  • Nearly every Buddhist, including officers and top generals, has a brother or cousin or friend who is a monk. “If the army attacks them they are attacking their families, the village neighbours they have grown up with,” said Josef Silverstein, a retired Rutgers University professor and Burma scholar.

Source: Marcus Gee, “Junta confronts Saffron Revolution”, The Globe and Mail.

  • “It has been a deeply moving experience to see the long, disciplined lines of monks in towns and cities across the country, marching through monsoonal downpours, chanting prayers for loving kindness and challenging the regime that many citizens blame for their continued oppression,” said Mary Callahan, a Burma watcher at the University of Washington, in an e-mail.

Source: Marcus Gee, “Junta confronts Saffron Revolution”, The Globe and Mail.

  • While the mass protests in Myanmar are of fleeting interest to most Saskatchewan residents, University of Regina journalism professor Patricia Elliott has been monitoring the build-up for weeks.

“It is really heating up now,” said Elliott, whose book The White Umbrella — published in 2000 — chronicles the story of the former Burma through the eyes of Sao Heam Hkam, a high-ranking Shan princess who fled the country and came to Canada in 1969.

“It’s hard to watch for me. Over the last year the situation has been deteriorating and certainly I have been watching developments grow over the last couple of weeks and had the sense that it is not slowing down. It is going to hit a tipping point.”

Elliott, who travelled to Burma while researching her book and has befriended Burmese pro-democracy political activists both here and in Myanmar, said the repercussions of the pro-democracy protests can be very strong.

Source: Anne Kyle, “U of R professor closely watching Myanmar protests”, Leader-Post.

  • Kyaw Yin Hlaing, a politics professor at City University of Hong Kong, says that some concessions – including immediate measures to alleviate public hardship in day-to-day living – could reduce the momentum of the demonstrations. “People are asking for changes,” he said. “The easiest way for things to calm down is to do something that will make them feel that there are some changes and more changes will come in the future.”

Source: Amy Kazmin, “Monks’ protests put pressure on junta”, The Financial Times.

  • Carl Thayer, a defense expert at Australia’s University of New South Wales, says ASEAN appears unlikely to take further action. “ASEAN has already indicated that they reached a certain level of frustration – they can’t do anything and that’s their non-intervention (policy),” he said.

Source: Ron Corben, “ASEAN Under Pressure to Press Burma Against Violence”, Voice of America News. 

  • Australian National University visiting fellow Trevor Wilson, a former Australian ambassador in Rangoon, says the current culmination of events could be a turning point for Burma.

“(But) I’m not optimistic that from inside the country or from outside clear steps are being taken that will bring about that change,” he said.

Aside from military and defence bans, he believes sanctions by individual nations have little impact on Burma.

“Unless you’ve got fully authorised UN Security Council sanctions, sanctions are not a very effective way (of bringing about change), if they’re going to be circumvented by other Asian countries,” Mr Wilson said.

Source: Sandra O’Malley, “Australia holds off on Burma sanctions”, News.com.au

There are also very recent opinion pieces by Dr Monique Skidmore (an Associate Dean at the Australian National University) available here and Professor David Steinberg (who has been previously interviewed by New Mandala) available here.

Readers who come across any other interesting academic commentary can bring it to our attention by posting a comment.        

About Nicholas Farrelly