Time to Act “Myanmar” : Clinton Visit
It came as a comic relief to read the tail piece of a long winded article on India Myanmar relations ending thus:-
Another “Great Game” involving India, China and the US is now playing out in Asia on the eastern fringes of the Indian subcontinent. But before the regional balance of power tilts away from China and towards India, the potholes on the road to Moreh will have to be smoothed out. Only then can China’s grip on Myanmar be challenged and India able to link up more directly and strategically with Southeast Asia.
A sad commentary on our strategic initiatives being let down by tactical neglect.
Anyway this is the story of Madame Clinton’s visit to Myanmar. The free world and Myanmar are ecstatic about this new change in power equation in Asia Pacific which may finally end the isolation of Burma. In our last post on Myanmar we had hoped for a few more turns of the wheel, as articulated by Aung San Suu Kyi, to open Myanmar to the world. Apparently those turns have taken place and Suu Kyi has endorsed Thein Sein’s honesty in carrying out the promised reforms. That made Obama see a “flicker of progress” likely to ignite into a “movement of Change”. American officials have, however, warned that this was just the beginning and there would be no major announcement, like lifting sanctions.
Clinton’s visit represents the clearest signal yet that the Obama administration is ready to begin a new era in U.S.-Myanmar relations. Though a lot more needs to be done by Myanmar and US before the sanctions are lifted, which would need Congress approval, the media the world over is playing out this as the next natural US step in containing China in Asia Pacific. This after both the countries played their cards on the table in Obama’s APEC and EAS tour of the region.
As per Australian media a political detente would allow US and European companies greater access to a market of 62 million people, though they are among Asia’s poorest. Until now neighbouring China, India and Thailand have accounted for most of the investment into Burma, pouring more than US$25 billion into ports, power plants and pipelines to capitalise on the country’s rich natural resources and strategic location on the Indian Ocean.
The Chinese media has only one question to ask of the visit, “Will Yangon Change Sides”? The state run Global Times editorial raised speculation that US is trying to win over its neighbouring countries. Chinese experts feel that this could adversely affect Chinese investment in Myanmar including the pipelines and ports. Playing out their worst fears they argue that in case of a US China crisis, US could block the Chinese coastline along with Malacca straits to bottle up China. The paper further argues that aim of US ties is to isolate and encircle China
Chinese weariness comes as Obama is pivoting his focus from Middle East towards Asia Pacific to counter balance China’s power. As per an opinion in Washington Post, Myanmar may be keen to cash in on the two – maybe trying to balance one against the other and maximising its margins in Foreign investment, technology and development. China’s Global Times states simultaneously that China has no resistance towards Burma seeking improved relations with the West but it will not accept this while its interests are stamped on.
Xinhua quoted Vice Premier Xi Jinping also the Vice Chairman of CMC that China will work with Myanmar to further bolster the comprehensive strategic partnership.
Myanmar is a resource rich country and a new focus in the contest of wills between US and China for influence in the Asia Pacific. China’s influence on the country has been significant during past five decades when the West left it out. However the pro democracy forces in Myanmar argue that China has plundered Burma’s natural resources to fuel its own booming economy.
But then there are more caveats. US has to be convinced or convince Thein Sein that a truly democratic Myanmar is good for it people, economy and the region. How far he is able to convince US of his sincerity is where the solution will lie. BBC argues that as per critics the country still holds hundred more political prisoners and that fierce fighting is going on between the military and and ethnic insurgents in various states. This may stall restoration of relations.The US is also looking to press Myanmar’s military to end its cooperation with North Korea, which is under tight UN and US sanctions for defiantly pursuing its nuclear weapons.
The way out of this logjam will indicate the true calibre of Thein Sein’s diplomatic skills. Editor of Irrawady magazine Aung Zaw says Myanmar will need to engage in “delicate and sophisticated” diplomacy to retain its close ties with China while improving its relationship with the US.
What about the people? The Chinese media is already criticising Chinese authorities for focussing more on the military governments than the people. As per Myint Kyaw, 46, a longtime journalist in Rangoon, “People are beginning to feel a little bit hopeful”. “They want to believe in it.”
Let us hope the voice of people prevails.
As for India, it is time we smooth en out the potholes on the road to Moreh to welcome democracy along our North Eastern States because time to proactively Act Myanmar has come.
- What can Clinton achieve in Myanmar? (cnn.com)
- Clinton in Myanmar May Augur Opening After Apple-to-Pepsi Exit (businessweek.com)
- US Motives in Myanmar Are on China’s Radar – New York Times (nytimes.com)
- Hillary Clinton Visits Myanmar to Urge Reform (usnews.com)
- Clinton visit presents opportunity in Myanmar (cnn.com)
- China VP meets with Myanmar armed forces chief (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Goals for Secretary Clinton’s visit to Myanmar (globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com)
- Clinton to Press Myanmar Leaders on Lack of Internal Freedoms – BusinessWeek (businessweek.com)
- Myanmar’s Suu Kyi ready to gamble on political reform – Reuters (reuters.com)