Myanmar at a Crossroads: Thant Myint-U's Where China Meets India

Article excerpt

Draw a circle, instructs Thant Myint-U in his recent book Where China Meets India, around Myanmar's second largest city, Mandalay. Give it a radius of 700 miles, roughly the distance from Washington DC to Chicago. Within this circle lives ten percent of the world's population, nearly all of it poor. It reaches both India's northeastern states in the west and China's Yunnan province in the east, both among the least developed regions of their respective countries. Far from being a fringe periphery, Thant argues, the area enclosed by this circle is poised to become a region of global importance; it is the stage oi a new "Great (Tame," this time not between Britain and Russia but ascendant India and China.

Myanmar has recently received a new wave of media attention. Last November, dissident leader and Nobel laureate. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, announced that her opposition party, the National League for Democracy, would participate in upcoming parliamentary elections. Only a year earlier, President Thein Sein released Suu Kyi from a 15-year house arrest without: trial. Her participation in upcoming parliamentary elections has raised hopes of an end, or at least a formidable challenge, to Myanmar's nearly five decades of military autocracy. In criticism of the regime's history of political oppression and human rights violations, the United States and the EXJ have historically imposed strict sanctions upon the country. Recently, the United States has restored diplomatic relations with the nation, signalling the possibility of major progress in this relationship. Nevertheless, the path forward for relations will not be straightforward.

Thant's book explores these issues with an eye to Beijing and New Delhi, asserting that continued sanctions from the West force Myanmar's leaders to look to the East. His criticism of Western sanctions permeates the text; he characterizes US policy toward Myanmar as a "morality play" that has failed to cause democratic reform as loni? as the country can freely conduct business with its eastern neighbors. He views Myanmar's growing friendship with China as paradoxical, noting that many generals within the ruling junta had been trained in the West and spent their lives fighting Chinese-backed insurgents. Rather than forcing Myanmar's generals to take Western demands seriously, sanctions cede to Beijing the West's little remaining relevance in the country.

Where China Meets India is a blend of historical analysis and contemporary travelogue; Thant frames the book as a series of trips to cities in Myanmar, India, and China that provide the reader with tangible measurements of the often abstract relationships at issue. …