Burma Could Be Next Asian Tiger: UN Adviser

Vijay Nambiar, special adviser to the secretary-general on Burma, says that the country could be the next Asian tiger. (Photo: UN)

UNITED NATIONS—The UN secretary-general’s special adviser on Burma says the resource-rich but desperately poor nation has the potential to become an Asian tiger if it promotes investment, eases financial restrictions and finds experts to develop the country.

Vijay Nambiar gave an upbeat briefing to a group of reporters on Tuesday, ahead of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Burma this weekend, saying that after more than 20 years of “almost self-inflicted hibernation” the country has undergone rapid and dramatic political changes.

“I think the pace as well as the nature of the change has been in some ways extraordinary, and perhaps far in advance of what had been envisaged” by the military, which ruled the country for 50 years, he said.

Since last year, the new government headed by President Thein Sein has overseen a wave of political reforms and won wide praise for progress toward democratic rule. The government has freed political prisoners, signed truces with rebel groups, and organized April 1 by-elections deemed free and fair that were overwhelmingly won by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party and earned the Nobel Laureate a seat in Parliament after years of repression and house arrest.

“Today, after more than 20 years, Burma has a Constitution, elections and a Parliament,” Nambiar said, which despite flaws never happened before.

He said last year’s meeting between Thein Sein and Suu Kyi “has been a major game changer,” and he praised the president’s statesmanship and the opposition leader’s agreement to contest the April election despite her opposition to the Constitution which was drafted during an era of military rule and gives inordinate power to the military.

Another “game-changer,” Nambiar said, was the decision of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to choose Burma to chair the organization in 2014.

The recent suspension of US and European Union sanctions, which were imposed in the late 1990s to punish Burma’s former iron-fisted military rulers, has also been important, he said.

But Burma’s progress towards democracy suffered a hiccup on Monday when Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, refused to take its 43 new seats in Parliament because of a dispute over the lawmakers’ oath which says they must “safeguard the constitution.” It wants the word “safeguard” replaced with “respect.” Party officials said they expect the issue to be resolved soon.

“I think there is wisdom on both sides to get through this,” Nambiar said. “I can’t see them going through elections and not solving this.”

He said one of the most important imperatives today is to develop Burma, which he described as a country “twice the size of England or France with a population much larger than Afghanistan and Iraq put together which has had 60 years of conflict.”

According to the International Monetary Fund, Burma’s population in 2010 was 50.5 million and the country ranks 149th out of 185 on the UN’s Human Development Index which measures the quality of life.

“There is a critical need for external investment, for easing of financial restrictions, of currency reform,” Nambiar said. “All these areas are extremely necessary—and quickly.”

He said in some ways the economic changes are “a little more intimidating” than the political changes because with the transition now taking place in the country “there is going to be this huge rush in terms of investment and financial attention—even aid attention to Burma—and the question of how to cope with it.”

It is going to require expanding the capacity of government institutions and changing regulations, deciding what kind of internal and foreign investments are needed, and planning to develop the country’s private sector, he said.

Nambiar, who is Ban’s chief of staff, said the first thing the UN plans to do is try and help the government prioritize its development plan.

He noted that the government is bringing back some of its citizens with expertise who have been living overseas, but “there is a huge lack of human resources capability.”

Once these requirements are met, Nambiar said, “I think there is a strong possibility that Burma can emerge as a tiger.”
Looking ahead, he said there is also a generational change taking place in Burma, including in the military and younger leaders, even in the army, are going to face the same kind of challenges as their counterparts elsewhere in the world.


8 Responses to Burma Could Be Next Asian Tiger: UN Adviser

  1. Mr. Vijat Nambiar is exaggeration is too much, how can Burma becomes Asian Tiger, it is merely a dream as an UN Advisor to Secretary General he sould not talk un-polish diplomatic language.

    As a matter of fact Burma is 50 years backward than Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia although she has natural resources. It was due to lack of cooperation by US and EU and Choina got a chances to enter fully inside Burma for explotation of Burma economy.

    Look at Burma infrastructure, comparing neighbouring countries especially Thailand which size is smaller than Burma, but GDP and infrasture development hundred time better than BVurma. So as a diplomat I would like to request you, kindly give us good advice not exaggerating Burma. I do not agree with your point, because Mr. Nambiar do not know, We burmese has many internal problems among ethnic groups first to be solved. Burma is not Saudi Arabia, Burma has Gas not Oil sir.

  2. It is more likely a wishful thinking by the UN officer. We all wish well for future Burma. The most important point to make is to tackle with the rampent corruption in society actively promoted by the years of ruthless military rules. The corruption can bring the democracy to its knees once the instability of new-found democracy occured. The military would take over the power again to save the country sliding into oblivion, once told by the dictator General Ne Win. If we remember the situations in late 1960s, those of precursors for military take-over. The next step is to establish the rule of law so that no one will be above the law. The amendment of the constitution is the requrement for it. Corruption and lack of rule of law will bring Burma into artificial economic boom beneficial to a few millionnaires. The vast majority of public out there will never see the fruit of liberty in the unprotected rough sea of cruelty.

  3. The Adviser Is Right. If we go without political problem the can become one of Asia tiger. People know how to handle.There are a lots of reasons to explain .

  4. Pls don’t make a easy calculation to Burma.
    In Burma, All Ministeries and Departments stuffs not change their minds, dignities and big corruptions process, Howere more great foreign investments coming, our 50 millions people will be still living poverty life for more decades. You mean Burma will be Asian Tiger soon. I think if they (Ministeries and Departments)didn’t change their corruptions, Burma will be a Asian Pussy Cat soon,not Asian Tiger!

  5. UN special advisers up to ‘U Nanbya’ have been bending over backwards all this time to engage and promote Burma (what else can they do when R2P was never a real option?), so now is their chance to talk it up as only a toothless organisation can do.

    Unfortunately under the current political management we are more in danger of becoming the next Asian Whore (with the bling and cheap makeup no doubt) than the next Asian Tiger. The rape of Burma will more likely intensify exponentially in a free for all with dollars and euros dazzling the generals’ eyes while talking all visionary and green, everyone using the PC buzz words and soundbites and cleverly masking their greed.

    It will certainly provide some of them a breather and a fillip to their economies in a recessionary crisis. As to our rulers, not necessarily to the peoples of Burma, it will be a shot in the arm, stronger and richer than ever. It’s a beaut, innit?

  6. Hello Mr. Nambiar:
    This must be a joke. How much did you get pay from Thein Sein Government for making this comment? When? Next mellenim? Are you trying to get attention from foreign countries to do investment in Burma. So far, I see the blood thirsty Chineses and India Demons are the two foriegn countries are willing to invest in Burma. I am not surprised what kind of advisors are working for UN. There are no credible political system, no infrastrature, no reliable banking system, no solid and decent education system, no justice, no transparency, no accountability, no basic human rights, and no corruption controls in Burma. How can you say that Burma will be next Asian Tiger? Please use your brain, not just your eyes and ears to make this kind of comment again.

  7. Burma turn into the Asian tiger preying its own disadvantaged ethnic groups, not economic tiger. We Kachins were well sleep well eat and stable under Military Dictator Thanshwe, but not under Thein Sen, So called democratic Government. As soon as Thein Sein in Power, We had to run to the bushes and living in Limbo, all villages destroyed, innocent villages tortured to dead,innocent girls raped to dead, is this preparing to be the Asian Tiger? I think more likely to be Asian Wild Dog. The deeds of this Government is sitting with popular NLD figure to distort their image in front of the west to got a chance to commit Ethnic cleansing, a serious crime against humanity. Namibia and Ban Ki Mon, Clinton and Cameron, are you waiting for the completion of the ethnic cleansing campaign of Thein Sein, then will say we regret, wash hand and finish. Then there will be a serious terrorism with no leaders to deal and to cease.

  8. Hey Mr Nambiar,

    Base on what are you making this ambitious remark…sure Asian Tiger perhaps in the next Thirty Years (30) this is already an ambitious estimate.

    Mr Nambiar this remark you have made is just from the surface you are seeing, you made this remark without substance, very disappointed coming from a UN senior person my professional respect for you has just flew out the window.

    Please don’t make sure zero substance remark, perhaps you might have something to gain by this remark.

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