US policy shift: The generals are dancing well

by Nyo Ohn Myint
Saturday, 26 September 2009 13:17

Mizzima News – Many observers, political activists and interested parties are wondering why the United States has finally decided to engage with Burma’s military regime. Obviously, Burma policy is part of United States foreign policy under President Obama’s new era of global engagement. However, whether Burma becomes a special case for the State Department, only time will tell.

“Burma’s political development is very complicated and the US government has taken this position with a hope of promoting stability,” recently speculated a Yunnan University researcher who does not wish to be named.

“Strengthening bilateral relations between the US and Myanmar [Burma] government more or less impacts ceasefire groups that live along the Sino-Burma border,” he continued. To date, ceasefire groups have enjoyed various favors and commercial prosperity in balancing relations between China and the Burmese military regime for two decades.

With the Burmese military’s recent offensives against ceasefire groups along the Chinese border, Senior General Than Shwe urgently needs US government backing. He needs to realize the fruition of the seven-step roadmap to democracy for his own personal security – consolidating the military rank and file and washing his hands of an alleged pro-China sentiment. For better or worse, he has to get out from under the shadow of China to deal with major ceasefire groups. He was not able to aggressively deal with ceasefire groups as long as he was getting diplomatic, economic and political support from China. He needs the US government on his side. What does the Burmese military regime expect from the US government? With the current administration dispensing with the idealism of the Bush era, the junta hopes for an easing of sanctions, the reconvening of normal relations with few strings attached and tacit endorsement of its roadmap.

For its part, President Obama’s administration feels tired of a policy consisting merely of pressure, preferring to instead deal with perceived political reality. Unconvinced of the Burmese opposition’s strategy to instill change, the US government is perhaps seeking to preempt growing Chinese influence in the region over the course of the next decade.

The US seems to believe that better communication with the regime will profit all parties, including the NLD. The US administration needs to find a political space for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under any new policy. The President and Secretary of State do realize that her moral authority cannot be marginalized while creating a new US policy – a fact that greatly complicates the equation.

The US shift did not occur without first considering the views of ASEAN and Burmese internal dynamics. Maybe ten years from now the opposition will take part in a full process of democratization, but for now the US seems to buy what the Senior General is offering – and something is deemed better than nothing.

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