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Recent Trends in Myanmar-US Relations: Implications for Myanmar’s Political System

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  • March 19, 2010
    Fellows' Seminar

    Dr. Udai Bhanu Singh, in his paper, pointed out that the United States has been critical of the military regime in Myanmar. The US approach towards Myanmar was essentially based on a policy of sanctions and non-engagement with Myanmar. While China, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and neighbouring countries engaged with Myanmar, the United States continued to practice its policy.

    Of late, there has been a shift in the American policy towards Myanmar, which is making an impact on Myanmar’s SPDC also. In the case of Myanmar, it is apparent that contrary to its practice in Southeast Asia the US is not following the ‘Security First Policy’. For this, pointed Dr. Singh, China could also be one of the important factors. However, whether the shift in US policy is significant is yet to be examined. The shift in the US policy towards Myanmar has been evident as the two parties have made several official visits to each others’ capitals. Still, the US is consistent on the point that sanctions will remain in place until Myanmar becomes a democracy.

    Another contentious issue between Myanmar and the US has been Myanmar’s nuclear programme. While some scholars doubt Myanmar’s nuclear capability and its ability to make nuclear weapons, one cannot deny the fact that Russia (and possibly North Korea too) has been cooperating with Myanmar on nuclear issues. In the changed circumstances, SPDC’s objective is to integrate with the international community and to increase the level of manoeuvrability. Drug trafficking is another issue of concern for the US in light of the fact that Myanmar is the world’s second largest drug producer.

    Another reason, as pointed out by Dr. Singh, is the role of the Burmese diaspora based in the US. The US- and Canada-based Burmese diapsora is playing an increasingly significant role in influencing US policy towards Myanmar. For instance, the Massachusetts-Burma Law was heavily influenced by the Burmese diaspora based in the US. What are the implications of such a change in the approach?

    • The possibility of change in the Burmese Junta’s policy depends on SPDC’s ability to face the challenges, both domestic and international.
    • The US so far has focused attention on just one person and just one party, which has failed to deliver positive results.

    Points of Discussion:

    1. Studying the US policy towards Myanmar will not help without understanding US policy towards the Southeast Asian region.
    2. There is a realisation in the US that because of Myanmar its policy towards Southeast Asian region is also getting stifled.
    3. The US is not able to engage Myanmar constructively because of domestic legislative constraints.
    4. The shift in the US policy is a result of President Barak Obama’s attempt to reach out to recalcitrant countries. China factor is not significant since during the Bush administration nothing was done regarding Myanmar. It is to be noted that Bush administration had the policy of trying to forestall China’s rise in Asia.
    5. A reference to Andrew Selth’s article on Chinese bases in Myanmar was made during the discussion on Chinese bases in Myanmar. It was said that reports on Chinese bases in Myanmar was an overreaction.

    Report prepared by Rahul Mishra.