November 20, 2012

Hope and change

The Indian Express :
 Tue Nov 20 2012, 02:11 hrs

Obama's visit vindicates India's belief that Myanmar needs time to sort out its political challenges

Two winters ago, US President Barack Obama, in his address to Parliament, could not resist scolding Delhi for its constructive engagement with Myanmar's military rulers. An India that seeks a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, he said, cannot stay silent on the suppression of democracy in Myanmar. On Monday, Obama became the first serving US president to visit Myanmar. Obama's pace of engagement has drawn criticism in the US and beyond. Many feel that he should not reward the military rulers before they sort out all issues of international concern — including the accommodation of ethnic minorities and suspected nuclear ties with North Korea. 

Obama insists that his brief but historic visit to Myanmar is not about endorsing the generals but about encouraging them to walk more purposefully down the path of democratisation. Obama argues that the US must extend a hand to those nations seeking to move in the right political direction, even if the reforms are not complete. That Myanmar has changed beyond anyone's expectations in the last two years has made it easier for Obama to push ahead. His new enthusiasm for Myanmar, however, is not without geopolitical calculation. Much like Delhi's embrace of Myanmar two decades ago, Washington's current logic is driven by the imperative of balancing Beijing in Asia. America's new interest is part of its "pivot" to Asia and includes plans to build military ties with Naypyidaw. 

Whatever Obama's motivations, his Myanmar sojourn should be welcome in Delhi. For all its desire to counter Beijing's growing influence, India never had the resources to compete with China's expansive presence there. Obama's visit will help Myanmar end its prolonged isolation, reduce its dependence on China, and reclaim its independent voice in Asian affairs. Above all, Obama's visit vindicates India's conviction that large and diverse countries need time and space to sort out multiple political challenges at home. The direction and speed of Myanmar's reforms can't be managed through "calibrated" sanctions. Myanmar is unlikely to become a perfect democracy any time soon. But Obama's political support can only increase the likelihood of positive change in Myanmar and a better regional balance.

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