World powers line up to woo new administration

This summer, the U.S. Treasury Department received a petition from the financial industry asking for the removal of Asia World Port Management from the department’s sanctions list for Myanmar. The company operates Myanmar’s largest port. The U.S. deems its parent company, Asia World, as one of Myanmar’s past military government cronies, and banned U.S. companies from using the port, making operations there difficult.

Isolated from the international community, the military government increased its dependence on China for economic and diplomatic purposes. In the spring of 2011, however, newly appointed President Thein Sein began to distance the country from China. The president froze a large-scale, China-led dam building project, while reaping the benefits of pushing the country toward democracy. The West reacted by lifting economic sanctions, allowing Myanmar’s return to the international community.

With the Nov. 8 general election increasingly looking like a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, five decades of military rule will come to an end.

“These elections were an important step forward,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, adding that “the United States remains committed to supporting the people of Burma.” Washington’s stance on Myanmar is seen as one of the more positive elements of U.S. foreign policy during President Barack Obama’s time in the White House. The U.S. now appears set to reduce or lift the remaining sanctions in a bid to increase economic support for Myanmar and help realize U.S. economic interests there.

The U.S. and Europe have been staunch supporters of Suu Kyi since the time she spent under house arrest. But things may not always go to plan.

In a historic meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on June 11 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Suu Kyi expressed hopes for stronger ties between her party and the Chinese Communist Party. Yet China was not high on Suu Kyi’s list of countries she planned to visit after winning a parliamentary seat in 2012. After visiting the U.S. and a number of European and Asian countries, Suu Kyi finally arrived in Beijing, just five months before Sunday’s general election. China, for its part, put on an unusually elaborate welcome for an opposition leader.

With China having a questionable human rights record, much like Myanmar’s past military government, few expected Suu Kyi to go near Beijing.

When she did, many international human rights groups expected Suu Kyi to call on Xi to help China’s Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who has been jailed for his human rights activities, but no mention of the issue was made during the meeting.

Suu Kyi’s belated approach to China at the risk of attracting criticism now seems a pragmatic decision from a politician vying for support in the runup to the election. Last month, Suu Kyi told Indian journalists that Myanmar was “one of the first countries in the world to recognize the Communist government of China.” The relationship with China “will be good” if she comes to power, she was also quoted as saying.

Surrounded by China, India and the other Southeast Asian nations, in an area with a combined population of over 3 billion, Myanmar’s position makes it a crucial geopolitical hub. In 2013, China opened an oil and natural gas pipeline bridging its inland with Myanmar’s Indian Ocean coast. India is working to build a cross-border highway into Myanmar.

Source: Nikkei Asian Review

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