Strategic Importance of Myanmar

Some notes from summary of a book of Thant Myint-U, a former UN official, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and author of ‘Where China meets India“.

  • For thousands of years, Indian and Chinese civilizations have been separated not only by the Himalayas and Tibet, but also by the vast and virtually impassable lands that once existed between Bengal and the Yangtze valley.
  • Burma and the adjacent highlands have traditionally been a barrier to interaction between what is now South and East Asia.
  • It’s this basic geography that is now being overturned. A series of massive infrastructure projects, new railways and highways, will very soon bring China into much greater and direct contact with the Bay of Bengal than ever before. Its impact will be as profound as the opening of the Suez Canal.
  • Burma’s top asset is not its natural gas or teak or gems but its position in between Asia’s two great civilizations. There is today the real potential for Burma to become a new and dynamic crossroads, and this would be wonderful thing not just for the people of Burma, for India and China as well.
  • But this would require a changed Burma, one that ends its armed conflicts and becomes more open and better governed. If this doesn’t happen, and Burma remains impoverished and unstable, it could instead become a source of ever increasing tension and perhaps even conflict between Asia’s biggest rising powers. Progress in Burma is important for the entire region.
  • China has been very active economically in Burma, but the West has almost abandoned it. Western sanctions and boycotts have been wholly counterproductive. For over a quarter-century Burma’s military regime sought to isolate itself from the rest of the world. Sanctions have only helped to strengthen that isolation, reinforce xenophobic mentalities, prevent the emergence of an independent middle class, and as a result severely weaken the chances for sustainable democratic change. Western sanctions have also created a vacuum, one that China has been eager to fill. For any poor country, being next to the world’s greatest industrial revolution should be an advantageous thing, but in the absence of other investment, other economic interaction, it’s led to an extremely imbalanced relationship. A backlash is not impossible and this would be a tragedy for everyone.Thus, West is responsible for pushing Burma into China’s arms.

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