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Notching Up A Win In Burma

The Obama administration may be worried about the domestic economy and unemployment these days, but there is one policy the president can look on as a significant success—the new US approach to Asia. It was scarcely six months ago when the Administration, in a rare display of display of diplomatic finesse, announced a movement of troops and deepening of military ties with a group of nations from Australia to Vietnam to the Phillipines in the span of less than a week. This  set the tone for American presence in the region from that point on, and although nothing as dramatic as that first week has occurred since, the tides have continued to run America’s way. In the past year, we’ve seen the emergence of something less formal and less directed than an alliance but more organized and more focused than a supper club springing up around the Chinese perimeter. At Via Meadia we think of it as the entente, and it stretches from Korea to India around the Asian rim.

Perhaps the most significant changes have come in Myanmar, long one of the most repressive countries in a region not particularly known for open government. The past few months have seen the beginnings of significant liberalization in the country, which is turning towards the west as it has become more aware of the risks involved in its dependence on China. It is very unlikely that any of this change would have taken place without the prospect of American help.

Although Myanmar is still far from a model of openness, it is clearly moving in the right direction, and The New York Times reports that the Obama Administration is now rewarding Myanmar for these steps by removing a ban on investment from American businesses. In a meeting at the State Department’s Treaty Room, Secretary Clinton sat with her Burmese counterpart and declared Myanmar open for business. This is an even more dramatic step than many had expected, and it is a testament to the rapid pace of progress in Myanmar, and in American Asia policy as a whole. While nothing is permanent in the Game of Thrones, it looks as if Burma has set a new course both at home and abroad.

In what must be a pleasant surprise for Obama, his Asia policy has garnered a good deal of bipartisan support—both John McCain and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have announced (in guarded and generic ways) their support for the general thrust of our Asia policy as well as the switch on Burma. This is good for Obama, and it is good for the country; should Obama lose the upcoming election, his Republican successor would be likely make adjustments to our Asia policy rather than switching direction completely.

Observers in the US and abroad often underestimate the capacity of the American system to develop and implement foreign policy and to stick with our measures long term. There is also an excessive fear of isolationism and many Asians from time to time voice their fears that the US commitment to the region is evanescent.

It isn’t. The US is in Asia to stay, and while a Romney administration would no doubt bring its own Asian agenda to the table, the broad lines of American policy in this vital part of the world look pretty clear.

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  • Luke Lea

    The biggest threat to America coming out of China isn’t military. It is corruption. Trade with China corrupts. Free trade with China corrupts absolutely.

  • Kris

    “In what must be a pleasant surprise for Obama, his Asia policy has garnered a good deal of bipartisan support”

    It must indeed be a shocking surprise for Obama. Based on his own behavior, he must have expected savage attacks on the policy, followed by an adoption of self-same policy after a GOP succession.

  • Lorenz Gude

    When Myanmar had it’s anti government uprisings some years ago I remember thinking that I could perceive the hand of China behind the scenes and that Myanmar seemed unlikely to escape the fate of being a Chinese satellite or colony. I am delighted at the current shift in Myanmar and American support for it. Am I seeing the hand of the Clinton wing of the Democratic party behind these moves into Asia? Pawn to Queen’s 7, check!

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