Burma’s change: real or PR?

By October 20, 2011

Burma (MNN) — Burma appears to be turning a new leaf. The brutal military rule, in charge for
nearly half a century, has given way to a civilian government.

The head of that new government launched  a series of reforms that appear to be more
than superficial reform. Because of it, the Burmese are daring to hope.

How does a country that has been in isolation for the last
half century overcome skepticism that
this is more than slick public relations? Patrick Klein with Vision Beyond Borders says, "The ministry contact in Burma
said he really believes it is changing. He's very, very hopeful. I think
they're realizing that they cannot stand alone. They need the rest of the world,
and they need to open up."

By taking action, the new government hopes to show that
their transition to democracy could be
done without the chaos and bloodshed.

In late September, Burma's new
government announced that a massive $3.6 billion Chinese dam project would be
"suspended." The
Burmese government followed that up by releasing a large number of political
prisoners, among them the iconic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Censorship has been relaxed.

Will it last? Human
rights watchers are skeptical, having seen similar moves before. However, this
time, notes Klein, "The chairmen of
ASEAN, which is the Asian Nations, will
come from Burma in 2014. So they're trying to show the ASEAN nations that they
are changing. In order to have the chairman come from Burma, they have to prove
to them that there are economic reforms–that the country is changing, that
it's going toward openness. So, he believes
that it's really changing for the good."

It's clear that Burma is trying to put some distance between the
rule of the past and the rule of the present. Says Klein, 
"The president is trying to get free from the control of the two
top generals, which are actually no longer in power. He did say that one of the parliament members
recently had a meeting with the people, and they called it 'Democracy
Day.'" Klein goes on to say that
change has come to how Burma represents itself in symbols, too. "They  have a new flag now. It's bright colors: red,
yellow and green, with a white star in the middle. It no longer looks Communist,
like the former one."

Normalizing relationships with sanctioning nations will take
some work, and Klein says Burma has the
motivation for it. "They don't want to isolate themselves any longer from
the rest of the world. They realize they have to trade with other countries."

Change like this affects every opportunity. "Our friend is trying to get permission
for us to send four 40-foot containers full of food, medicine, and there are
some Bibles in there, and a lot of clothing. With the president opening up, it
affects the government ministers, as well, on every level.  So it sounds like we'll have a better chance
of getting supplies in there."

The changes are an answer to prayer. What happens after that, Klein says, is up to
God. "People are watching, and I think they realize, too, that persecution
is being made known around the world very fast through the internet. I think they'll end up backing off the church,
and it will be a great opportunity for the Gospel to go into Burma and reach
more and more people."

Although the junta regime appears to have much less
influence, Klein acknowledges that challenges
lie ahead. "Be praying that God will convict these men, or remove them from
their positions of authority, and that the Lord will cause His church to rise
up more and more, to evangelize, to use the opportunities that God has given
them inside their country  to reach their
people."

You can find out more about Vision Beyond Border's work.

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