In 2011, Myanmar began to transition from a military government into a democratic regime. This transition is expected to come to an end with the holding of general elections in November 8, 2015, the country’s first elections in 25 years. However, as Myanmar enters the global picture of commercial and political relations, it has an important issue to address: its large deposits of jade, its relationship with neighboring China as main supplier of the gemstone, and the dangers that the illegal management of the natural resource pose to successful democratic change.
A report released on Friday, October 23, 2015 by Global Witness, an anti-corruption organization based in London, revealed that the illicit jade mining and trade industry in Myanmar is worth a staggering $30 billion, a figure equivalent to nearly half the country’s GDP. The report details that the huge profits benefit current government and military officials, and are funneled through corporations that have ties to the military regime and Burmese elites. It also identifies several family members of Than Shwe, the former dictator who ruled the country from 1992 to 2011, as the owners of some of the mining corporations.
The Global Witness report states that all implicated parties, including the Burmese government, China, and the United States, share some of the responsibility for the crisis. As part of its recommendations, it calls on the United States to impose sanctions on the individuals responsible for the jade trade. The goal is to take the jade industry out of their hands and redistribute some of the profits to the country’s most impoverished regions. But as Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) sets out to win most of the seats in parliament in next month’s elections, the Global Witness report has shed light on the old regime’s tight grip to its political and economic agenda, posing a threat to democracy and peace in the Southeast Asian nation.
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Photo Credit: Mathias Destal