YANGON, Myanmar–Indonesians of a certain age still speak about Seulawah, their country’s first airplane, a Douglas DC-3 Dakota purchased from an American airman in Hong Kong during Indonesia’s bitter war for independence from the Dutch after World War II. They can recall how the Dutch blockaded Indonesia while the plane was being refitted in India, forcing the aircraft to seek safe harbor here in Yangon, then known as Rangoon, the former capital of Burma. They can tell you how Seulawah was used to smuggle arms and ammunition from Burma to the Indonesian island of Aceh–and how, when the blockade was broken and Indonesia’s revolutionary war was won, it was Seulawah that fetched Indonesia’s founding fathers and ferried them home to a hero’s welcome.
Sixty-five years later, Myanmar–as Burma is now known–is the country haltingly coming to terms with a future of its own making. And this time, it is Indonesia’s turn to lend its Southeast Asian neighbor a hand–not through the power of its jet engines but through the power of its example as a strong yet decentralized political system.