For Regional Powers, Economic Interests Trump Principled Policy in Myanmar

For Regional Powers, Economic Interests Trump Principled Policy in Myanmar

In 2011, Myanmar astonished the international community with a series of political openings that led even U.S. President Barack Obama to see "flickers of progress" in the country. The approval by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit last November of Myanmar's bid to chair the regional bloc in 2014 and the historic visit of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the country seem to have launched a regional race for gaining a "special relationship" with the Myanmar authorities, themselves eager to attract new foreign investment. But it is doubtful that increased economic involvement with neighboring countries will strengthen Myanmar's nascent democracy.

Motivations for seeking closer ties with Myanmar vary. At the Fourth Greater Mekong Subregion Conference hosted by Myanmar in the second half of December, some countries, like Thailand and Vietnam, held separate bilateral meetings with Myanmarese authorities in an effort to improve their economic and commercial relations. Other countries, such as India and Japan, are interested in increasing trade in order to counterbalance Chinese influence in the region.

In 2010 Vietnam-Myanmar trade turnover topped $152 million, up 54 percent from the previous year. The aim now is to deepen trade and political relations, while leaving sensitive issues to be addressed within the ASEAN setting.

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