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The first step of Myanmar’s democratization has begun following the bold step of the military regime, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), to free Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday. Though it was a small step, it was a giant leap for the victimized people of Myanmar, who will now be able to live more peaceful lives.

Deserving the thanks of Myanmar’s people are Razali Ismail, the U.N. special envoy who brokered the reconciliation between the regime and Suu Kyi’s democratic forces; U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan, whose handling of this problem set a positive example; the governments, groups and individuals who supported the change; and the principal parties, the SPDC and Suu Kyi, whose flexibility, goodwill and perseverance have paid off with this stunning result.

Of course, many problems remain. A perfect transformation of the nation’s politics cannot be expected, but if all parties work together, the period of transition can be made smoother.

It has been speculated that the SPDC would ask Suu Kyi to work with it to improve the country’s education, health and welfare. This could be wishful thinking but most knowledgeable people think it would be the right thing for the government to do.

Suu Kyi has spent much time and money to improve the education of dissident students, and in doing so has set an example of commitment and goodwill for the peace and prosperity of the nation. Investment in education will reap great dividends for the nation in the long term.

One of the most exciting developments that could emerge from this kind of cooperative relationship between the regime and Suu Kyi is that dissident students now living in the border areas of Thailand and India may be persuaded to return. Such a development would benefit both the regime and the Suu Kyi-led forces and facilitate the process of rebuilding the nation.

Another development could be deals to bring an end to the remaining insurgencies around the country. The majority of Myanmar people are familiar with the Buddhist teaching that says: ” The mind leads the world.” Jesus Christ taught a similar message when he said: “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).

Patience, tolerance and perseverance will help ensure a smoother transition, diminish the people’s fear and distrust of the regime, and help head off potential calls for trials and revenge.

Myanmar must set its own example of perfect forgiveness and reconciliation. By moving together toward the same goal — the happiness and prosperity of the people — the regime and the Suu Kyi-led forces could understand and appreciate each other’s weaknesses and strengths and help each other to become better leaders.

It is important not to rub salt in the wounds of the SPDC by saying untruths about the country. More than a few columnists have reported that the former and the present military regimes turned “the richest country in Asia” into one of the most underdeveloped nations in the world. Although it is true that Myanmar has tremendous potential, it has been a needy and wanting nation since it gained independence from the British.

Of course, the country’s military regimes worsened Myanmar’s situation. But upon learning the lessons of the errors committed, the past must be set aside and Myanmar must march forward with new spirit.

The United Nations, Japan, China, South Korea and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should lend assistance to Myanmar once a new form of governance has been established.

Asians must prove, with aid of the U.N., the superiority of constructive engagement over the West’s dictatorial policy of isolationism, which has been proven wrong. Rather than bring about a lasting solution, threats and violent solutions only cause more problems. The case of Myanmar will prove the wisdom of constructive engagement.

Japan has particularly a good relationship with Myanmar. Historically, culturally and psychologically, the two nations are bound by their experience in World War II. Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority nation, has forgiven Japan for its past actions and no longer brings up past atrocities.

This mutual understanding has brought the two nations closer. Japan should encourage Myanmar’s generals to free all political prisoners of conscience as a followup to the freeing of Suu Kyi, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi should soon schedule a visit.

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