Burma Reborn and Full of Hope
Barbara Crossette, Author and Journalist
Photos | Transcript

altNew York, NY—On January 10, 2013, Barbara Crossette, United Nations correspondent of The Nation and author of several books on Asia, briefed the Women’s Foreign Policy Group on Burma’s internal economic and social situation, as well as Burma’s relations with its neighbors and the US. In her discussion, she also addressed the continued presence of the Burmese military and the potential challenges for Burma pertaining to its bureaucracy and its minority groups. The event was co-sponsored by and held at the Institute of International Education.

Crossette provided a brief overview of the economic situation in Burma. The current lack of industrial and basic infrastructure development sharply contrasts the situation post-World War II, when “Burma had the most promise of any country in Southeast Asia.” According to Crossette, there has been little change since her visit in the 1980’s. However, she believes that although poor, Burma should not be considered a third world country, as its population has a relatively high literacy rate of 92%.

She also addressed the increasingly bureaucratic nature of the Burmese government. Crossette indicated that resolving bureaucratic inefficiencies and reducing cronyism will be difficult due to the unwillingness of the government to accept change. Additionally, she noted that the continued absence of a rule of law and the lack of effective courts are barriers to breaking down the bureaucracy. This, as well as Burma’s inexperience in international affairs, may pose a problem to Burma as it prepares to chair the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014.

Crossette then commented on the conflicts with several minority groups including the Karen, the Rakhine, and the Kachin. “The Burmese do not want [these groups] to be Burmese.” Many Karen people have fled to set up camps in neighboring Thailand. These ethnic conflicts are a serious threat that could lead to perpetual warfare or even disintegration. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has the potential to follow her father’s footsteps and unite the nation; however, she has yet to prove herself. In fact, Crossette feels that thus far, Aung San Suu Kyi has let the minority populations down. Nevertheless, Crossette thinks that someday Aung San Suu Kyi will be elected president as “she is the only answer to Burma [and] Burma’s future.

Despite the challenges mentioned above, Crossette believes that Burma has a chance to prove itself. Burma’s strategic location in between South Asia, Southeast Asia and China, and Burma’s term as Chair of ASEAN next year will allow it to play a greater role in the region and not end up, as some fear, a satellite of China. Crossette also emphasized the importance of maintaining positive US-Burma relations. With its abundance of natural resources and jade, Burma does not need another outsider coming in for extraction. Rather, it needs aid to develop its own industrial and energy base and it needs assistance to guide human resource development. This is where NGOs can start going in and making a difference, because the “best thing going for [Burma] are the Burmese people.”   


alt alt alt
WFPG President Patricia Ellis with Barbara Crossette

  Barbara Crossette addresses WFPG members and guests

alt alt alt
alt alt alt