Burma Finally Opens Up

For months – no, years – Develop Economies has been shouting it from the rooftops.  From a foreign policy perspective, the strategic value of Burma is undeniable.  It is the only country in the world (besides Pakistan, which is strategic for different reasons) that shares a border with three of the four BRIC countries (Russia, India, and China).  But now, in light of several major non-symbolic gestures by the ruling military junta in Burma, the U.S is finally dropping its ideological opposition to an incomplete democracy and, as of a few days ago, has decided to ease sanctions on the country.

A foreign policy piece from the New York Times explains the decision:

As Myanmar loosens the grip of decades of military dictatorship and improves ties with the United States, China fears a threat to a strategic partnership that offers access to the Indian Ocean and a long-sought shortcut for oil deliveries from the Middle East.

With the United States reasserting itself in Asia, and an emboldened China projecting military and economic power as never before, each side is doing whatever it can to gain the favor of economically struggling, strategically placed Myanmar.

The Obama administration would like a swift foreign policy success in an election year. Having another country move from dictatorship toward democracy on Mr. Obama’s watch would be a political achievement; having a friendly country on China’s border would be a strategic one.

Before, the United States and, specifically, the Obama administration were hamstringed from extending an open hand completely by serious economic sanctions on the government.  These sanctions really only hurt the people of Myanmar, as other countries – specifically China, South Korea, and even France – had major natural resource deals in place that lined the pockets and secured the ruling position of the military elite.  Now that they have been lifted – or are at least close to being lifted – the U.S. can start to influence the country in a way never before possible.

The opportunity to guide a high-potential country with major strategic geographical interest in a region where the U.S. has had declining influence over the past decade is exciting indeed.   And, not to mention, the real beneficiaries of this opening up will be the people of Myanmar, who will be exposed to another world, both socially and economically.

5 thoughts on “Burma Finally Opens Up

  1. Josh Post author

    Hi Alanna – thanks for the comment, and sorry it has taken so long for me to respond. My blog has become overrun with spam and am just now sorting through the comments. Unfortunately, I think Burma is a long way away from the kind of reforms you and I would like to see. I do think Suu Kyi, with the support of other governments, can effect change, but the powers that be will be slow to cede all power. But ultimately, political reforms will lead to economic growth, and the lifting of sanctions that really only hurt the people of Burma will hopefully contribute to more broad-based growth. An?economically empowered populace is going to increase the likelihood that Suu Kyi will succeed.

    What do you think>

  2. Yugendra

    for the new government to succeed- economically and socially, it might depend highly on the foreign policy that the new government adopts. Burma should have a vision of their own about its neighboring countries developing countries along with western developed nations, I think the new government should act strong in the beginning of of their democratic days and try to be independent, specialize in the production of goods of comparative advantage and open-up trade with other countries without being highly influenced, (might be like being a play-ground for US for their interest in China)which might be devastating in future for development as I think.

    And I didn’t got it clearly the point you mentioned above “It is the only country in the world that shares a border with three of the four BRIC countries (Russia, India, and China)” because I don’t see Burma sharing border with Russia.

  3. Josh Post author

    whoops – you are right. i should have said two BRICS countries, and Pakistan also has that distinction. Still, it is pretty darn close.

    So what do you think is the way forward for them? Manage their natural resources effectively? Seems like minerals and natural gas are their real specialization. If they can successfully triangulate different powers, they can get what they need. With leadership from Aung San Suu Kyi and others, they also might be able to thrive.

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