A Cold Day In Burma
By Russell Imrie
February 9, 2018
A few days ago the 2018 Winter Olympics took off great with ceremony at PyongChang, Republic of Korea (“South Korea”). That a very unlikely competing country, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“North Korea”) marched in the opening festivities is amazing, given that the two sovereign states have been locked in an unresolved conflict since 1953 when an uneasy armistice began following a short, intense war.
That a prosperous and democratic South Korea even thinks of accommodating the North says a lot about the South’s confidence and progressive outlook—and the pariah North’s need for respect and global credibility as a nation.
This astonishing turn of events is one more step in South Korea’s historic path to establishing itself as a modern, dynamic Pacific nation with a vibrant economy and a place as regional power.
Myanmar’s (Burma) story now lies in strong contrast to South Korea’s narrative. At the end of the 1950-53 war, Korea was in utter ruins and had scant natural resources. Things looked bleak. Burma, another Asian country (now known as Myanmar), was in a similar condition but had rich mineral, forest, and agricultural advantages like fertile land, water, and a favorable climate. The steps each took to evolve their economies in the coming decades have led to vastly different outcomes. SE Asia expert and advisor Dr. David Steinberg, in “Myanmar and South Korea Expert Discusses the Reasons Why the Two Countries Upended Their Development Expectations, September 18, 2017” states that the strikingly contrasting conditions are primarily the result of two contrasting polities.
Myanmar is a country of abundant natural resources, and yet is still one of Asia’s poorest countries. This situation is in part due to recent political turmoil.
Myanmar’s economy, with large deposits of ores to support it, should have lifted the nation to a thriving economic giant and lifted the welfare of its people. Instead, authoritarian regimes controlled by a corrupt military and cronies have hobbled the nation and rejected foreign ideas and management expertise. Its economy and politics, despite the recent relaxing of junta-like control, are more than ever in desperate shape. Religious conflict and ethnic cleansing sees hundreds of thousands of Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh, itself struggling with its own challenges.
Korea’s post-conflict military regime though, exercised intelligient discipline by encouraging a free economy and foreign expertise. The ravaged mountains and cities were populated by an energetic population that could build ventures and were open to imaginative products.
The “my country first” economic model re-emerging as a populist meme ignores this fundamental lesson of national development: “It will be a cold day in Myanmar when the chains of authoritarianism will bless its peoples with freedom and prosperity.”