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Do yourself a favour and get a taste of the real Myanmar

THE roquette salad with toasted goat cheese, Kachin nuts, lotus seeds and apple garnishing was followed by Andaman lobster risotto baked with Aythaya rosé wine and fresh fine herbs.

Then came firewood-grilled grouper fillet with lemongrass olive oil, lily flower stem and bergamot-flavoured vegetable, and finally pineapple crisp with coconut ice cream and passion- fruit sauce.

The feast from chef Boris Granges and his Le Planteur staff in Yangon was washed down with wine from Bert Morsbach’s Myanmar Vineyard up in Taunggyi.

Everyone agreed the white and rosé wines had matured splendidly since Morsbach set up the winery a decade ago, but the red was still a work in progress.

Actually, it’s hard not to wine and dine well these days in Yangon, arguably the region’s most friendly and compatible city.

And, with a civilian government in place after last November’s multi-party elections, it’s now more politically acceptable to visit Myanmar.

Not everyone agrees, of course. The United States and other Western nations call the new administration “old wine in a new bottle”.

Joseph Yun, a US State Department emissary who visited Myanmar recently, says he remains pessimistic about post-election progress.

Echoing a similar line, Aung Din, director of the US Campaign for Myanmar, has urged that economic sanctions against Myanmar be beefed up.

Likewise, Baroness Glenys Kinnock who, in her native Wales, is a world-famous expert on Myanmar, claims there has been no change at all since  the elections.

She argues that not only should sanctions be maintained, but that the Associat-ion of Southeast Asian Nations should reject Myanmar’s bid to host the 2014 ASEAN summit.

But, as a true Myanmar expert, Professor David Steinberg of Washington’s Georgetown University, noted this month: “Sanctions are a tactic to indicate displeasure and promote change.”

And though they’re easy to impose, sanctions  can be tough to remove – even if they achieve nothing more than moral condemnation.

That is their real purpose: not to remove the regime, but to establish moral credentials in the eyes of domestic electorates.

Most politicians know they have a reputation several rungs below that of used-car salesmen and Catholic bishops.

But they can bolster their do-good image by supporting a hard line against Myanmar, even if their false sincerity, coupled with the inconsistency of Western sanctions, is shameful.

Consider the disparity in US sanctions against North Korea and Myanmar.

Nuclear-armed and volatile, Pyongyang is undoubtedly one of the main threats to the US and other nations.

Yet, as a Congressional Research Service study noted: “Washington does not maintain a comprehensive embargo against North Korea.”

It does against Myanmar, despite there being far fewer political prisoners and far more freedom than in North Korea.

Indeed, Myanmar today is like Indonesia in 1998, when Suharto was ousted. Now, Indonesia is a fully fledged democracy, even though a retired general is still president.

The transition may be a little longer in Myanmar, but it would certainly happen faster if the embargo were removed.

Yet people like Aung Din and Kinnock demand even harsher sanctions, as if past failure will mysteriously lead to success.

Even pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s stance on sanctions has wavered. In February, she said foreign investment was needed, provided it took account of the rights of workers.

Since then, she has reverted to the bankrupt view that the Western embargo must be upheld.

It’s sad, but understandable, because that is her only remaining leverage. But really, sanctions must go. And the sooner, the better.

After fifteen years of failure, the pro-sanctions crowd should heed that apt Chinese aphorism: “If you don’t change direction, you’ll end up where you’re going.”

Do not, however, wait for them to see the light.

Instead, do yourself a favour and head over to Yangon for a delicious meal, rounded off with some premium Shan Arabica coffee or perhaps a grappuccino von Morsbach.

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