Culture: Political Science:
Toward an “In-Sense” of
By Koh Kim Seng, Ph.D.
International Business Executive, Political Scientist
Editor’s Note: This paper is the first of
series of chapters excerpted from Dr. Koh’s book, ‘Misunderstood
through my participant observations, having spent 20 years of my lifetime
there, as well as through some exchange of communication, and collated random
notes following many a tête-à-têtes,
"microscoping" domestic events as they were being magnified in the
international arena, the “In-sense” of Myanmar is a compilation of thematic
narratives on the pitfalls and vicissitudes of Myanmar in the context of the
wide expanse of varying world views. The
“In-sense” derives in large part from the importance I give to personal
I commence, it is imperative that I first elaborate my subject position on
In the years following what I term the “1988 Conflagration”, I observed the government making attempts towards the Country opening up, both politically and economically. Prior to the SLORC days commencing late 1988, I could hardly discuss any business proposals or meet socially with any Government official without prior written appointment and approval, and it did not matter what level of friendship or the equivalent Chinese, quanxi, had been attained.
Conduct of Meetings.
These could not be held without any senior government member or official having a whole retinue of subordinates furiously taking minutes of whatever transpired and having the meetings photographed, ostensibly to honour the visitor and/or for record purposes but which, I suspect, was for security reasons - a throw back, perhaps, to the Aung San assassination debacle. Indeed it was difficult, if not hazardous, for me and more so for my business colleagues even to endeavor a social visit to officials’ homes as it was well known that invariably there would be the anticipated “prying eye” of the Military Intelligence (MI) looking from unknown quarters. On probing, I ascertained that at that stage of development, government members/officials/bureaucrats were not permitted to meet foreigners privately.
anecdotal to this, in 2000, one expatriate who was on an eight-month assignment
in Mandalay and who, over the period lived in the Mandalay Swan Hotel, in his
profound sense of observation felt that his loyal, punctual and most obliging taxi
driver could have been a government spy – a Military Intelligence, “MI”, plant
Apart from this, he was perfectly happy with the people and his assignment was
carried out successfully as far as he was concerned. This was how Orwellian the Country was perceived to be. This perception is where we shall
take-off discussing whether
the time, telex and telephone calls were the fastest mode of communication and
this had to be done past midnight,
My visits from early 1988, revealed infinitely more stringent checks through customs than had been in 1986. It appeared that officers were instructed to go through all luggage with a fine-toothed comb, so to speak. What normally took about an hour and a half to clear the airport, went on for nearly three hours. People appeared fidgety and I discreetly enquired from my contacts if there was any problem. The reply was that the situation was a little “unstable”. Since I usually do not see civilian policemen around, I assumed that the military (Tatmadaw) men, who enforced law and order, had taken charge of the airport at this time. I was able to verify subsequently from sources at the Ministry of Defence back then, that the civilian police force’s principal duty is for the maintenance of law and order and that they do not have any role in “crisis” management as was the case in controlling the “1988 Conflagration.” This being so, and not noting any particular increase in the usual ubiquitous Tatmadaw men, I again enquired why this was so. The short reply from my contact (a very senior government official) was that the Tatmadaw couldn’t intervene in any domestic local issue of the Country (apart from national defence) unless requested officially and specifically by the Government, in line with the legislation on “Aid to Civil Authority” embodied in the 1974 Constitution.
In my subsequent visit sometime in July 1988, the situation in the Country appeared “tense,” and I decided not to visit the Country thereafter until a more appropriate time because information gleaned by me revealed that “small scuffles” had broken out here and there in the Country after my last trip.
Right about the first quarter of 2002, I immediately tapped the minds of core SLORC/SPDC members, whom I had bumped into here and there in the course of my business affairs, and with the caveat that all information exchanged would be kept in utmost confidence, we freely thrashed out fundamental conceptions of Myanmar’s many mores and major events in its history, face-to-face as well as through the telefax and telephone, the most convenient means of communication at that time. To put it in another light, this might well be “history writing/recording” in postmodern times.
After accomplishing my extensive research and
being fully acquainted with the events as the “secondary literature” on
Brother (among others who I would term “key
respondents”) and I had the primary aim of
“clarifying some historical facts,” which are written or published already in
the rich literature on Myanmar/Burma and to “uncover” others which have thus
far been practically inaccessible to past scholars. Make no mistake, however, that this “rich
literature” largely comprises examples of what Michael Aung-Thwin explains as
the “historically periodized” manner of studying developments in a nation’s
distant and not-so-distant past, which is according to him the reason for a “disconnected”
history telling. Instead, as we attempt to gain an “In-sense”
The structure of this thesis is as indicated in the Summary but for expedinary of the reorder, I would briefly restate that following the present Introduction, in Chapter 2, I discuss how Myanmar is perceived in the international arena by the foreign press and scholars, by non-governmental organizations both local and international, by other states and by the Myanmar diaspora itself – all of which in this Thesis comprise the milieu exterieur. Such perceptions have more often than not been inaccurate, or at least, they must be reconsidered and/or substantiated. The only too well known disproportionate criticism from the milieu exterieur, as will be unveiled, in itself impels a great amount of reckoning and understanding.
3 and 4 narrate my interviews and discussions with the “insiders” of
addition to government personalities (among whom are academics / scholars), I narrate my meetings and conversations with
influential members of the Sangha, as
well as private sector individuals, both in business as well as general
workers. These are individuals I met in the course of my 20 years of
professional / business sojourns in
Chapter 5 serves to portray the nexus between the view of the Developed North (Western) countries – the milieu exterieur – and that of the Government – the milieu interieur – the latter being the obverse side of the milieu exterieur’s “Free World” coin. The chapter discusses whether or not the “ international community’s views” - of Myanmar having been caught in a “time warp,” or that progress/developments made are “cosmetic” or that it is a “repressive regime,” including the imposition of trade and other sanctions − are flak or if these are the result of the Government’s moves and intents having been misunderstood / misconstrued or simply if it is a method for foreign elements to denigrate and castigate the Government. The chapter also covers the political/economic philosophy of the Government behind measures undertaken (or allowed to lapse) by it, in spite of offers of aid towards development made by the milieu exterieur, as comprehensively as is possible. It inter alia attempts to demonstrate whether or not the popularly held scorn that “putting 4 generals together would not add up to Standard Three (education)” is purely a myth.
endeavors the task of locating
deals with mapping out issues on the domestic and international plane, which
Conclusion – Quo vadis
 Lewis H.Lapham, Gag Rule-On the Suppression of dissent and
the stifling of democracy,
 As a 49% foreign direct investor in a “Build, Operate and Transfer” joint venture operation with the Directorate of Hotels & Tourism, in the Mandalay Swan Hotel (Mandalay) and 100% FDIer in the Swan Building, an eight-storey “mixed development” building, which was constructed on a “Build, Operate and Transfer” basis, in Yangon.
 The term quanxi is most properly associated with
 On 19th July 1947 while Aung San was chairing an Executive Council Meeting of the Interrim
Government, at about 10.30am,
along with 7 other Members.
They died. (Shelby Tucker,
 One sample of a reply to my inquiry from (a respondent among others), is annexed. See ANNEX “B”.
Members of the armed forces are not permitted to reveal their personal details and this may have contributed in
part to the perception that they are lowly educated.
 Michael Aung-Thwin, “Myth and History in the Historiography of Early Burma”, p.152.
 Shelby Tucker, Burma the Curse of Independence, Pluto Press, London 2001, p.185.
 Reportedly asserted by Aung
San Suu Kyi and is generally very well known in
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