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Matt Warren

How Myanmar Liberates Asia, by Robert D. Kaplan - 2 views

  • Geographically, Myanmar dominates the Bay of Bengal. It is where the spheres of influence of China and India overlap. Myanmar is also abundant in oil, natural gas, coal, zinc, copper, precious stones, timber and hydropower, with some uranium deposits as well. The prize of the Indo-Pacific region, Myanmar has been locked up by dictatorship for decades, even as the Chinese have been slowly stripping it of natural resources.
  • Think of Myanmar as another Afghanistan in terms of its potential to change a region: a key, geo-strategic puzzle piece ravaged by war and ineffective government that, if only normalized, would unroll trade routes in all directions.
  • if Myanmar continues on its path of reform by opening links to the United States and neighboring countries, rather than remaining a natural resource tract to be exploited by China, Myanmar will develop into an energy and natural resource hub in its own right, uniting the Indian subcontinent, China and Southeast Asia all into one fluid, organic continuum.
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  • The salient fact here is that by liberating Myanmar, India's hitherto landlocked northeast, lying on the far side of Bangladesh, will also be opened up to the outside.
  • But while the future beckons with opportunities, the present is still not assured. The political transition in Myanmar has only begun, and much can still go wrong. The problem, as it was in Yugoslavia and Iraq, is regional and ethnic divides.
  • Myanmar is a vast kingdom organized around the central Irrawaddy River Valley. The ethnic Burman word for this valley is Myanmar, hence the official name of the country. But a third of the population is not ethnic Burman, even as regionally based minorities in friable borderlands account for seven of Myanmar's 14 states. The hill areas around the Irrawaddy Valley are populated by Chin, Kachin, Shan, Karen and Karenni peoples, who also have their own armies and irregular forces, which have been battling the Burman-controlled national army since the early Cold War period.
  • Worse, these minority-populated hill regions are ethnically divided from within.
  • Myanmar, it is true, is becoming less repressive and more open to the outside world. But that in and of itself does not make for a viable institutionalized state. In sum, for Myanmar to succeed, even with civilians in control, the military will have to play a significant role for years to come, because it is mainly officers who know how to run things.

    But given its immense natural resources and sizable population of 48 million, if Myanmar can build pan-ethnic institutions in coming decades it could come close to being a midlevel power in its own right -- something that would not necessarily harm Indian and Chinese interests, and, by the way, would unleash trade throughout Asia and the Indian Ocean world.

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    Myanmar's ongoing liberalization and its normalization of relations with the outside world have the possibility of profoundly affecting geopolitics in Asia -- and all for the better.
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