Tag Archives: Blue Moon Fund

Continuing Burma’s Transition to Democracy

26 Apr

Here is a news article posted on the United States Institute of Peace website today on a roundtable we held this week on Burma and our Track II dialogue process:

April 2012 | News Feature

April 26, 2012

The Asia Society and the U.S. Institute of Peace on April 25 co-hosted an invitation-only roundtable that brought together representatives of the Myanmar Development Resources Institute (MDRI) and U.S. experts as well as policymakers to exchange views on the current situation in Burma. The meeting is part of an informal dialogue—an ongoing channel of communication—between experts from the United States and Burma to explore opportunities to advance U.S.–Burmese relations during a fragile period of transition in the Southeast Asian nation.

The meeting came on the same day that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell testified before Congress on U.S. policy toward Burma.

Expectations for significant change in Burma—a country run for decades in autocratic fashion by military-dominated governments—were low after its November 2010 elections and the establishment of a new government in March 2011.

Yet, several months after taking office, President Thein Sein introduced a series of political and economic reforms, and the parliament began debating wide-ranging legislative reform—all of which has spawned cautious optimism in Burma and abroad.

“The country has expressed an eagerness to rejoin the world community through democratic reform and resolving its internal ethnic conflicts,” says Colette Rausch, director of USIP’s Rule of Law Center.

In January 2012, an Asia Society delegation visited Burma to engage in Track II dialogue with MDRI, a new and independent think tank based in Yangon whose advisers provide policy advice on political, economic and legal affairs to Burma’s president.

The delegation included Suzanne DiMaggio, Asia Society’s vice president of global policy programs; Priscilla Clapp, former U.S. chargé d’affaires in Burma; Rausch of USIP; Ji-Qiang Zhang, vice president of programs for the Blue Moon Fund (an environmental foundation based in Charlottesville, Va.); Debra Eisenman, assistant director of gobal policy programs at the Asia Society; and Billy McCarthy, program assistant for Blue Moon Fund.

In concert with lead partner Asia Society and the Blue Moon Fund, USIP plans to continue its involvement in the Track II dialogue with MDRI advisers with the aim of assessing and then assisting the needed reforms identified by the Burmese people, which may include rule of law, democracy building, environmentally sustainable development and people-to-people exchanges.


As Demand for Reform Grows in Burma, the U.S. Opens a Door

18 Jan

I returned from Burma a few days ago.  It was an amazing trip.  The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) posted my write up on the trip.


As Demand for Reform Grows in Burma, the U.S. Opens a Door

January 14, 2012

USIP’s  Colette Rausch, director of the Institute’s Rule of Law program, is in Burma at a historic time. The U.S. on January 13 announced it would send an ambassador to Burma after the military-led government agreed to free political prisoners and implement other reforms just the day before. This effectively ends the U.S. isolation of the Burmese government. Around the same time, the Karen rebels agreed to a ceasefire, potentially ending decades of fighting. Just prior before these major developments, Rausch filed the dispatch below from Yangon, the former capital of Burma.

Yangon, Burma

This past year, Burma saw significant changes designed to transform it from a country in total isolation and under complete military rule to a budding democracy. Since his election in 2010, President Thein Sein has introduced positive, yet incremental reforms on the political, social and economic fronts. With these reforms, public skepticism is slowly diminishing and in its place is cautious optimism. Contributing to this optimism is Aung San Suu Kyi’s willingness to join the still imperfect political system in support of President Sein’s efforts to reform. She will be running for a vacant seat in the parliament in the April 1 elections. Though there is a long road ahead to democracy, and the potential for reversal remains, many are beginning to believe that the positive change underway must be nourished and reinforced by institution-building in order to make it more difficult to turn back. The key challenge is how to carry the transition safely over the hurdles presented by Burma’s decades-long isolation and totalitarian history.

I have been in Burma for the past week as part of a delegation led by the Asia Society to engage in Track II discussions with representatives from a newly created, independent research institute that provides policy advice to Burma’s president. The goal of the dialogue is to establish an ongoing channel of communication and explore opportunities for cooperation to advance relations between the U.S. and Burma. Discussions focused on issues related to environmental sustainability and economic development, rule of law, democracy building and people-to-people exchanges. During our meetings in Yangon and Burma’s capital Naypyitaw, we also met with government officials, representatives of the business community and civil society.

The years Burma spent in isolation has left it without the tools for managing modern political and economic life. There is an urgent need for exposure, awareness and capacity building to develop the systems and structures needed to foster an emerging democracy. During our trip to Burma this month, a common refrain from those we met was: “we lack awareness, knowledge and capacity. Without these, we cannot build our democracy.” As one person declared, “We have been hibernating for so long. We are starved for information and capacity building. Only a small handful in the country have capacity and that is not enough.” Accordingly, training is needed in all sectors: public, private, government and civil society. There is recognition that their lack of capacity is debilitating and they welcome assistance. “We need everything. You name it, we need to reform it,” one person said.

Further, Burmese business, government and civil society representatives with whom we met were very humble and welcoming of assistance, specifically from the U.S. The new government’s reform element believes in an urgent need to move reforms forward and to do it properly, inclusively and in line with democratic principles. Those we met with:

  • Seek to stimulate economic growth but with sustainability and environmental factors integrated
  • Recognize the need for the government to show timely and concrete deliverables to the Burmese people
  • Understand that the country is stymied by economic sanctions compounded by a lack of human and institutional capacity to deliver on needed reforms

With the desire for change growing, the government faces the precarious task of balancing the need for immediate changes with the need to make good reform decisions and to maintain stability. Despite the incremental nature of the actual changes on the ground so far, it is certain that the new government contains a strong reform element that is giving the Burmese people new hope and even respect for the government, especially the president. But it will be critical to deliver tangible positive outcomes for the people soon.

Our delegation included Suzanne DiMaggio, Asia Society’s vice president of Global Policy Programs; Priscilla Clapp, former U.S. chargé d’affaires in Burma; Dr. Ji-Qiang Zhang, vice president of Programs for the Blue Moon Fund (an environmental foundation based in Charlottesville, VA); Debra Eisenman, assistant director of Global Policy Programs at the Asia Society; and Billy McCarthy, program assistant for Blue Moon.

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