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Reforms are promising, but not perfect

(Global Times)

09:18, July 20, 2012

The US resumed diplomatic relations with Myanmar at the ambassadorial level recently and allowed US companies to invest with Myanmar. It is a combination of political change in Myanmar and strategic shifts in US policies in Asia. Myanmar has taken some modest steps toward political liberalization in recent months.

Historically, outside pressure on Myanmar has not worked. Myanmar's regime has a legacy of making changes on its own terms, not on the terms of outsiders.

However, given the improved climate for US-Myanmar ties, now it could be a good time for Washington to apply some pressure on Myanmar.

The US should ask Myanmar to provide a more transparent investment climate for US and other international firms, and reduce its suppression of ethnic minorities. It is also true to an extent that for both Myanmar and the US, better bilateral ties are driven by considerations about China. The US wants India's profile to rise in Asia, and Myanmar has often been a country where India has lost out to China on various deals, particularly energy ones.

However, it's also important to remember that Myanmar has decided it no longer wants to be dependent only on China for largesse, which is one of the chief reasons why Myanmar has engaged in some reforms and signified its desire to renew its ties with the US.

Though Myanmar no longer wants to be dependent on China, there are still extremely compelling reasons for Myanmar to remain close to China.

China, after all, still remains a key benefactor for Myanmar. Rapprochement between the US and Myanmar will not jeopardize the China-Myanmar relationship.

Although the relationship between US and Myanmar has made positive progress, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that it doesn't mean that Myanmar's reforms are perfect. Within the think tank and policy analysis community in Washington, there is some concern that the US government has normalized relations too quickly with Myanmar. This concern is well-founded.

This is after all a country where freedom remains elusive, and where repression of ethnic minorities remains intense. The US will not necessary raise more requirements to Myanmar, but I think it may slow down a bit and wait to see how recent normalization efforts go, before initiating further policies aimed at bringing the two countries closer together.


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