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Y. Yamaguchi: Address to World Summit 2013

PhotoHow should the international community engage with a particular nation to promote its peace, security, and development? How can countries be helpful in another country’s nation-building process?

A nation should have the primary responsibility for its own political system -- the backbone of a state -- and make it suit its peculiar situation, such as its history, tradition, culture, and popular dispositions. Foreign intervention with little appreciation for these elements could turn out to be a nuisance.

The international community should honor a country’s endeavors and extend indirect help such as official development aid, trade, investment, technology transfer, tourism, and academic and cultural exchanges.

Let me discuss a case in point: Asia’s rising star, Myanmar, whose rapid transformation has drawn the world's attention. The country is now witnessing remarkable progress: (1) the Federal Assembly functions reasonably well, with its members elected in a fair voting process; (2) liberalization policies have been adopted, such as freedom of speech, formation of labor unions, and economic deregulation; (3) political prisoners have been released; and (4) reconciliation with the minority peoples is taking place.

Thanks to these improvements, the West has significantly shifted their policies on Myanmar, away from the protracted and single-minded ‘Myanmar bashing’ that included harsh sanctions. Their pretext used to be that “Myanmar’s military regime holds onto power and ignores people’s aspiration for democracy.” In particular, the West blamed the government for not accepting the outcome of the general elections in 1990. As for Japan, although they did not impose sanctions, its basic policy was in tandem with America and Europe including the drastic curtailment of its official development aid to Myanmar.

Presumably, the West has indulged in an idea that their victory in the Cold War has justified their fundamental ideologies of democracy, liberty, equality, human rights, and market economy. As a consequence, they believe that these principles should be adopted universally in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere, and they even criticize countries that do not adhere to these ideologies. The US is especially inclined to impose its ideology even through military intervention, if deemed necessary. Thus the ‘Myanmar bashing’ continued unabated.

Democracy, if implemented properly, should be a favorable political system. But it needs certain conditions for its sound functioning. More than anything, a country’s unity and stability must be maintained while its people’s life and property must be protected. Suppose a country is suffering from a civil war that undermines its stability and unity and the safety of its people; under such circumstances, a democratic system can hardly function. Furthermore, sustainable economic activity is needed, and people’s educational standards and mature political consciousness are vital.

If a democratic system is adopted superficially when these conditions have not been met, politicians tend to indulge in vested interests and political infightings and the electorate might be poisoned by the misuse of money, violence, and social conventions.

One of the conspicuous reasons for Myanmar bashing was the fact that the military regime did not transfer power following the 1990 general elections in which the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi won by a landslide. In Myanmar at that time, however, as many as 18 ethnic minorities were engaged in anti-government struggles. Unless it was ruled by the military-led government, the country would have hardly been able to cope with the civil strife; it would have disintegrated into several regions controlled by ethnic minorities such as the Karen and Kachin. The Federal Republic of Myanmar would not exist today.

Thus, Myanmar’s military regime led a process of nation-building towards national unity and stability, creating its own course of democratization. For instance, the current Constitution retains certain clauses that endorse political intervention by the military, which may allocate one fourth of the Federal Assembly seats to the military. Furthermore, the military can appoint three cabinet members: the ministers of Defense, Interior, and Border. This is an intermediate stage of democracy suitable to Myanmar in its present situation, prior to a full-fledged democratization.

The West, however, was unable or unwilling to appreciate these peculiar circumstances. Instead, it manipulated the situation through conspicuous political intervention and sanctions. In my view, their political behaviors were quite contrary to my earlier suggestion that the international community should respect a country's efforts and extend indirect assistance such as official development aid, trade, investment, technology transfer, tourism, and academic and cultural exchanges. In this respect, Japan’s diplomatic coordination with the US and Europe was not appropriate at all.

In cases like Myanmar, the international community should pay more heed to local conditions. The West’s attitude of imposing a democracy may be akin to their self-righteousness. I cannot but consider that the Japanese government did not cope with the Myanmar situation properly and made diplomatic mistakes similar to those of the West.

For more information about World Summit 2013, click here.