Monday, June 24, 2024

The Myanmar Mirage

Author: Sebastian Strangio

Affiliation: Foreign Affairs

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: May-June 2020/ USA
Type of Literature: Article

Word Count: 2995 


Keywords: Myanmar, transition, West. 


The author analyses Myanmar’s “success” story on crucial aspects like the democratic transition, foreign policy, economic reforms, and law and order situation.  After almost fifty years of military rule, Thein Sein led Myanmar’s first quasi-civilian government. He rationalized the economy, opened peace-talks with rebel groups and allowed the democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi to re-enter politics.  On the foreign policy front, Myanmar got rid of the overpowering Chinese influence including on controversial infrastructure projects, instead improving its relations with the US and the West. These initiatives bore fruits as Barack Obama visited Myanmar for the first time and Western countries lifted harsh sanctions that had distorted and forced its economy to be socialist. The positive story turned dark in 2017, when a militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched attacks on several military outposts in the Northern Rakhine region. The military retaliated with a merciless genocide, killing hundreds and displacing 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to neighboring Bangladesh.  Nobel laureate and Myanmar’s democratic icon, Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence on the military’s atrocities shocked the world, especially the West. Thant Myint-U, a well-known historian from Myanmar, notes that the West always romanticized Myanmar’s transition and progress.  For the West, Myanmar’s success story would justify the liberal values and assert its longevity. Thant Myint-U observed that the complexity of Myanmar’s sectarian issues was ignored in the light of its quickly unfolding reforms. This dates back to the British colonial rule, which re-shuffled Myanmar’s racial and ethnic hierarchies in order to extract profit. Unless Myanmar’s race and identity issues are addressed, it will continue to be in crisis.

By: Usman Khan Pathan, CIGA Research Associate



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