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HILLARY IN MYANMAR

5 December 2011 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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In 1988, the U.S. downgraded diplomatic relations with Myanmar after a military crackdown on prodemocracy activists; it still does not have an Ambassador there. After the junta rejected the 1990 election victory of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy and placed her under arrest, Washington imposed economic sanctions. But what the perestroika President Thein Sein set in motion earlier this year has clearly changed the way the world looks at Myanmar now. The Thein Sein regime's decision to introduce political reforms was born out of the realisation that it needed to end its isolation and make connections with the world outside China, the ASEAN countries, and India, which have remained engaged with it over most of the last two decades. That Ms Suu Kyi is participating in these reforms, in a measured way, has given the process much credibility. Ms Clinton was careful to describe her visit to Myanmar as "a first date, not a marriage." She stressed that further steps, including the lifting of sanctions, would depend on "real" progress towards democratic reforms, including an unconditional release of all prisoners. Washington also wants the regime to cut military ties with North Korea. Still the announcement of projects worth $1.2 million in education and health sectors is a major step forward. American restrictions on international financial assistance to Myanmar have also been eased. Aside from encouraging Myanmar's political reforms, Ms Clinton's mission was driven by the desire to patch up with a country that has long been a missing link in its broader engagement in East and Southeast Asia, where the U.S. has actively sought to counter China's rise. Much like New Delhi, Washington has been concerned about increasing Chinese influence in Myanmar. But unlike New Delhi, which adopted the path of engagement with the junta early on, Washington could not as easily backtrack on its pro-democracy commitment in Myanmar as it has done elsewhere. Hopefully, its renewed involvement there will not set off a 'great game' in the region. Myanmar knows the pitfalls: Ms Clinton's tight embrace did not deter Ms Suu Kyi from saying that her country wanted "good, friendly relations with China, our very close neighbour, and not just with China but the rest of the world." Well said.
The Hindu
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