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Myanmar Moves Further Away From China’s Grasp

Myanmar continues to reap rewards from its gradual transition toward democracy—and away from dependence on China. Earlier this month, the U.S. announced it would lift some of the many sanctions it had placed on Myanmar over the past two decades. Today, the BBC reported that the EU is planning to go even further. A meeting on Monday between EU foreign ministers will likely result in the suspension of “most” sanctions.

Among the restrictions to be relaxed are the travel ban and asset freezes targeted at government officials. Aid and development money will be allowed into the country, as will investment in key sectors of the economy such as mining and logging. A preferential trade agreement is also rumored to be in the works.

In addition to the U.S. and EU announcements, other countries in the region have likewise begun to wind down sanctions. Australia has eased travel and financial restrictions and allowed the normalization of trade. Japan had not implemented the same penalties as its neighbors, but it had stopped offering development loans in 2003. Tokyo has said it, too, is looking to re-establish its substantial aid program this year.

This is a dramatic turnaround for a country that has spent the past twenty years as an international pariah. Of course, the story is not the simple morality tale the press is fond of telling, in which an oppressive military junta suddenly receives the benefaction of the West as it begins to slowly embrace democracy. Until recently Myanmar had been one of China’s few allies in Asia. Now it seems that it wishes to reduce its dependence on China and open up to other powerful allies. America, Maritime Asia and Europe are all too happy to oblige. But before we begin to pat ourselves on the back, it is worth reiterating that the objective of our Asia policy should not be to confront China, but to avoid the need to do so in the first place. An Asia that is safe, prosperous, and free helps accomplish this goal.

As we proceed with Myanmar, we should keep an eye focused on how all this looks in Beijing.

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  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “As we proceed with Myanmar, we should keep an eye focused on how all this looks in Beijing.”

    I think China has to recognize that their belligerence isn’t making them any new friends, and is losing them the few friends they do have. But, maybe this is what they want, a feeling they are under siege in order to keep their citizens in line. Authoritarian regimes frequently use external threats and wars in order to maintain internal control.

  • Eric

    The main reason for the political changes in Burma is careful fostering by Indonesia.

    There is probably no foreign leader who has been more influential in the unfolding events in Burma, as SBY reveals in our interview. “I can reveal to you now that we tried to do our part by engaging (former Burmese dictator) Senior General Than Shwe several years ago in a process of personal correspondence.”

    “I have a conviction that our (Indonesia’s) transformation, including the TNI (military) reform, is relevant to be shared with Myanmar, as we used to have a political system dominated by the role of the military.”

    SBY is Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

    The example of the Indonesian transformation, protection of the TNI from populist recrimination and attractions of ASEAN, makes it clear that distancing from China is not what Burma is doing explicitly. Rather they are moving closer to ASEAN and the Indonesian/Thai model. Because of this southeast asian focus they naturally must move away from China by default.

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