, as was known then, won its independence from the British in 1948. Since then, bilateral relations between the and can at best be described as lackluster. They have lacked what experts would call “strategic compulsions.” Western allies of the lack strategic calculus in dealing with . They have viewed it from the narrow prism of moralistic Western standards of democracy, human rights, rule of law, corruption and the trafficking of humans, drugs and weapons.
Myanmar: What Comes Next for Minority Groups?
To be fair, the Kissinger Doctrine integrated China into the liberal postwar order. It facilitated investments into, transferred technology to and trained manpower in . Under Deng Xiaoping and his successors, continued its peaceful rise. Xi Jinping, the current Chinese president, has ended that peaceful rise and destabilized the world order.has not always or entirely been sanctimonious. The historic
Missing Out on Myanmar
Theapproach to has been muddled and inconsistent. During the Cold War, Washington was happy to deal with allies in Asia that were military dictatorships. Under President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the was happy to deal with a communist regime.
In contrast, protests broke out. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Oxford-educated daughter of independence leader Aung San, emerged as the leader of a pro-democracy movement. The National League of Democracy (NLD) went on to win the 1990, 2015 and 2020 parliamentary elections.was a parliamentary democracy from 1948 to 1962 when Ne Win led a military coup. For the next 26 years, the country was ruled by the , the official name of the country’s armed forces. In 1988, nationwide
In comparison with, Myanmar’s regime has been far less oppressive. There is no counterpart to the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution. The has yielded to public pressure and held largely free and fair elections. In elections, even members of the have voted for Suu Kyi’s NLD. Yet the and its Western allies have ignored the strategic importance of in the Indian Ocean region in general and the Bay of Bengal in particular.
Chinese Influence Wanes and Waxes
In the past, theand its allies put pressure on the by imposing sanctions on . Instead of weakening the , sanctions hurt the people and pushed the country into the arms of . Between 2004 and 2007, a generational change in the caused a rethink in Myanmar’s relationship with .
The younger officers of the swung by . President Barack Obama visited twice in 2012 and 2014. By 2016-17, the persecution of Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority in the country’s Rakhine state, was in the news and relations between the and were already souring.decided to decrease dependence on Beijing. They tried to reduce Chinese influence in political and military governance. They attempted to transition to some form of democracy and improve relations with the West and neighbors like India. In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Yet this was a relatively good time for the country. Even financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank opened their purse strings. During this brief honeymoon period with the West, found itself on the back foot for the first time since 1988.
In 2011, Myitsone dam, a controversial hydroelectric project financed and led by a state-owned Chinese company. In 2015, Myanmar’s general elections led to yet another victory for Suu Kyi’s NLD. This was an opportune moment for the West to build relations with and counter . The had ceded ground to elected officials. Washington could have cultivated both of Myanmar’s centers of power: the NLD and the .suspended the construction of the
But the coup in February this year strengthens China’s hand further.missed this opportunity. From 2017, the Rohingya issue clouded Myanmar’s relationship with the West and allowed to regain its clout in the country. The military
connecting the Chinese province of Yunnan to the Bay of Bengal. Roads, railways, river navigation, oil and gas pipelines are deepening economic ties between and . It is part of the Middle Kingdom’s “Look South” policy that seeks to draw Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan into the Chinese arc of influence.has already been strengthening its hand by following its tried and tested policy of investing in infrastructure. The – Transport Corridor is
The military coup in Joe Biden’s administration as well as the Quadrilateral Security Alliance, the informal strategic dialogue between the , Japan, Australia and India known as the Quad.presents a great opportunity to and represents the first major foreign policy challenge to President
The US Still Has Some Cards
may be in the ascendant right now, but the West still has clout in . Suu Kyi studied at Oxford, lived in the UK for decades and married an Englishman. People from have immigrated to Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the . So, the West commands what Joseph Nye has calls “soft power” in the country. people want to immigrate not to but to the .
The military coup is a wake-up call for theto act. is now firmly in the saddle in . The is finding ferocious resistance on the streets. There is another overlooked problem. Like many postcolonial states, is a bewildering patchwork of cultural, ethnic and linguistic groups. Many of them have been fighting for independence or autonomy for years.
Few in the West realize that a savage conflict might be about to break out. About 20 rebel groups, including the United Wa State Army, Karen National Union, Kachin Independence Army and Arakan Army, control 33% of Myanmar’s territory. Many of them have condemned the coup. In response, the has launched airstrikes in Karen state. With drugs and arms flush in rebel areas, might be about to become the new Afghanistan.
The Quad leaders’ joint statement on the White House website emphasizes “the urgent need to restore democracy and the priority of strengthening democratic resilience” in . This mention is heartening, but the Quad and the need to do more. Opening dialogue with the would be a good start. Intelligence sources report that most young officers favor multi-party democracy and are wary of turning into a Chinese tributary.
A carrot-and-stick approach by Washington could still work. The World Bank has halted payments to projects after the military coup. International condemnation has rattled the . Pressure to reach a political reconciliation might bear fruit. Carrots in the form of infrastructure funding and development assistance could prove attractive. Involving Asian nations such as India, Japan, South Korea and Bangladesh, as well as member states of ASEAN, could pave the path to Myanmar’s transition away from military rule.
Despite foreign policy blunders, economic woes and internal division, theis still the undisputed top dog in the world. With the help of its Asian and European allies, Washington can counter , prevent civil war and restore democracy in . The time has come for to act.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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