Trump Should Help Complete Myanmar’s Transition To Liberal Democracy – Foreign Policy

When viewed in the long term context, Myanmar is good news. It has the potential to be a democratic and prosperous country with a friendly orientation to the United States if the United States and its allies remain engaged. After embarking on a historic reform process in 2010, Myanmar now has the most pro-American government in 70 years. This government is seeking significant US financial aid, diplomatic advice, military support, and closer trade ties. The Trump administration should build on the progress made by the Obama administration in supporting Myanmar’s ‘triple transition’: from dictatorship to democracy, from a planned economy to a market economy, and civil wars to peace.

Myanmar has been isolated for decades and has only started to open up in the last ten years. A British colony for over 100 years and administered as part of the Indian Empire, Myanmar’s history weighs heavily on modern politics. When then Burma became independent, the military played an important role and ruled the country for 70 years until the first democratically elected government took power in April 2016. When the Secretary of State took over visited Myanmar in 2011, she represented the first visit by a US secretary of state in over 50 years.

China has been selling arms to Myanmar for decades and is its biggest private investor. In 2008, China built infrastructure at a port in Kyaukpyu in the Bay of Bengal as part of its One Belt One Road strategy. Recently, China has exaggerated its hand, creating an opening for the West. In one case, the Chinese planned to build the Myitsone dam, which created an uproar in part because most of the electricity produced allegedly went to China. The military-backed government decided to “postpone indefinitely” Myitsone in 2011, the first time that one of its client states had said “no” to China to a project of this magnitude. The Myitsone episode, among other factors, encouraged the former military junta to move away from economic, political and military dependence on China.

When viewed in the long term context, Myanmar is good news. It has the potential to be a democratic and prosperous country with a friendly orientation to the United States if the United States and its allies remain engaged. After embarking on a historic reform process in 2010, Myanmar now has the most pro-American government in 70 years. This government is seeking significant US financial aid, diplomatic advice, military support, and closer trade ties. The Trump administration should build on the progress made by the Obama administration in supporting Myanmar’s ‘triple transition’: from dictatorship to democracy, from a planned economy to a market economy, and civil wars to peace.

Myanmar has been isolated for decades and has only started to open up in the last ten years. A British colony for over 100 years and administered as part of the Indian Empire, Myanmar’s history weighs heavily on modern politics. When then Burma became independent, the military played an important role and ruled the country for 70 years until the first democratically elected government took power in April 2016. When the Secretary of State took over visited Myanmar in 2011, she represented the first visit by a US secretary of state in over 50 years.

China has been selling arms to Myanmar for decades and is its biggest private investor. In 2008, China built infrastructure at a port in Kyaukpyu in the Bay of Bengal as part of its One Belt One Road strategy. Recently, China has exaggerated its hand, creating an opening for the West. In one case, the Chinese planned to build the Myitsone dam, which created an uproar in part because most of the electricity produced allegedly went to China. The military-backed government decided to “postpone indefinitely” Myitsone in 2011, the first time that one of its client states had said “no” to China to a project of this magnitude. The Myitsone episode, among other factors, encouraged the former military junta to move away from economic, political and military dependence on China.

Myanmar’s late 2015 elections were seen as largely free and fair. It’s hard to believe, but 110 former political prisoners are now members of Myanmar’s parliament. The elected government controls the former opposition, the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the famous human rights activist. However, the bad news is that the new government does not have full powers. The military controls three key ministries and conducts all military operations. As part of the constitution, the military also holds 25 percent of seats in parliament and has a right of veto. Additionally, the new government – not the military – is blamed for human rights violations despite the NLD’s limited ability to address these issues.

International human rights activists supported Aung San Suu Kyi as a human rights icon when she was a prisoner. As a politician in a nascent democracy, she faces new challenges and her political positions have disappointed or angered the international community. Critics abroad say she does not talk enough about the very serious human rights issues in Rakhine, including the mass killings of Rohingya Muslims backed by the army. Suu Kyi is also under pressure from the military, which claims to be fight armed extremists. One diplomat said his dilemma in Rakhine State was similar to John F. Kennedy’s dilemma over American segregation in 1961, and that we should see its political constraints in a similar light.

The Myanmar government faces three major challenges: economic growth, conflict and illegal drugs. Although Myanmar has flirted with socialism for several decades and made a series of poor economic policy decisions, today it faces different challenges in economic growth as well as promising opportunities. Myanmar later shifted to an economic model of “capitalist cronyism” with very strong military involvement in the economy. Today Myanmar is very interested in opening up its economy and Japan is very interested in build infrastructure and provide assistance. Another diplomat told me that the media in Myanmar are the freest in Southeast Asia. There has also been a proliferation of cell phones in less than 10 years. Ten years ago, a SIM card cost US $ 1,500 to power a cell phone, a price set by the military to keep information out of people’s reach. Today a The SIM card costs around US $ 1.50 and there is almost as many mobile phones in Myanmar as there are people.

Myanmar has several ongoing conflicts (at least four according to some accounts), the best known of which is between the Rohingya Muslim and Rakhine Buddhist communities. Like most conflicts in the region, the main issues between communities relate to minority rights such as language, greater autonomy for ethnic minorities and decades if not centuries of grievances. One of the necessary steps is a form of federalism where states have more say in their own affairs. It could be a decade or more away.

The Rohingya are not considered Burmese citizens by the government and are, in essence, stateless. The government maintains that the Rohingya are truly Bangladeshi immigrants; the Rohingyas maintain that Muslims and Rohingyas have been in Rakhine State since time immemorial. The Burmese military and citizens of Rakhine have atrocities committed against the Rohingya and the United Nations recently issued a human rights report on the fate of the Rohingyas. There are various estimates on the size of the Muslim community in Myanmar, although most agree that it is less than 10 percent. Kofi Annan leads a fact-finding process to better understand and create medium and long term solutions to Rakhine’s problems. It is clear that resolving these challenges will also take a decade or more.

The continued crackdown on the Rohingya could open the door to Islamic radicalization. The un report interviewing Rohingya refugees received a lot of attention from the international press; as a result, the conflict could also discourage foreign direct investment and jeopardize international support for Myanmar.

Myanmar is also a source of illegal drugs in Southeast Asia. Heroin trafficking has unfortunately experienced a renaissance in Myanmar after the country opened its borders. The UN considers Myanmar to be the second largest producer of heroin in the world, as well as a major supplier of methamphetamines. Income from the production and sale of opiates is estimated at $ 2 billion per year. The lack of formal financial channels – bank accounts, credit cards or digital payment systems – and the country’s reliance on cash transactions make drug sales particularly difficult to trace.

The best scenario for Myanmar is to follow the path of Indonesia – a relatively prosperous economy with a relatively successful multi-party and multi-ethnic democracy. If Myanmar’s political, economic and security transitions fail, it could become the source of a number of dangers for the United States, including the production of illicit drugs, drug-resistant malaria (which would cost the world millions of dollars). lives and billions of dollars), Islamic radicalization and endless humanitarian and security headaches. With a little care, the United States and its allies can influence for the better what is going on in Myanmar and seek to push it towards an “Indonesian scenario”.

Photo credit: LAUREN DECICCA / Getty Images


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