Fear of China pushes Burma (Myanmar) out of isolation
Cynics say that military leaders in Burma (Myanmar) are considering reforms urged by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after observing the global downfall of dictatorships. The more likely reason is Burma's increasing concern about China's dominance.
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In a plus for American diplomacy, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has visited Burma; met with Thein Sein, the new president promising reforms; visited with the legendary opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, now freed after long years of house arrest; announced relaxation of some American economic restrictions; and talked of resumed ambassadorial relations.Skip to next paragraph
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Secretary Clinton’s message was that the US may relax sanctions, depending on the speed and sincerity with which Burma moves ahead with promises to release political prisoners, ends the country’s isolation, and improves citizens’ lives.
It would be happy indeed if the regime had seen the error of past ways and was now tiptoeing toward democracy as a matter of principle. Ms. Suu Kyi says she trusts Mr. Thein Sein, “but I cannot say everybody in the government feels as he does.”
A less charitable view might be that the government is cynically observing the downfall of dictatorships around the globe and is moving before Burma’s long despotic reign comes to the same ugly end.
A much more likely and pragmatic reason for this sudden accommodation with the US may be concern about the increasing bombast of neighboring China.
Thus Burma would be joining the ranks of Southeast Asian nations that find China’s new military and economic muscle-flexing in the region threatening. As the former president of one of those countries put it to me recently: “We are being squeezed between China and America – and we prefer America.”
IN PICTURES: China's military muscle
A welcome Obama administration foreign-policy move is the president’s assertion that the US is a Pacific power and will act with the forcefulness required of a superpower’s presence. Burma is but one nation now wary of too close an embrace by an ambitious and aggressive China, and anxious for a balancing relationship with America.
John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column.