Doing research in Myanmar has not always been easy, possible, or legal. For example, Christina Fink, scholar of Myanmar and author of Living Silence in Burma originally published in 2001, was eventually banned from the country and forced to continue her research and work from nearby Chiang Mai, Thailand. After last November’s elections, Myanmar has largely been on a path towards positive change. Myanmar is slowly opening itself up to development initiatives, foreign direct investment, and even research. While total academic freedom is not a reality in Myanmar today, the country is surprisingly open to academic research.
Nicholas Farrelly, Deputy Director for the Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at Australian National University (ANU) and Director of the ANU Myanmar Research Center, has demonstrated how accessible some forms of empirical and non-empirical research in Myanmar have become. For example, in a recent Myanmar Times column, Farrelly shares about the process of easily accessing archives in Naypidaw and the many eager Myanmar researchers in Yangon.
This summer through the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the Elliot School for International Affairs, I had the opportunity to conduct empirical research in Myanmar. Four key recommendations emerged from my recent experience that may help guide the research process in Myanmar as the country gradually opens to academic research. (more…)Continue Reading →
Anyone who follows politics in Myanmar knows that Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK), Nobel laureate and daughter of the liberator Aung San, is now the de facto leader of Myanmar. Things are on the up and up. SIM cards no longer cost hundreds of dollars, the banking system is taking shape, and foreign investment is on the rise.
So what is becoming of the border city Mae Sot in Thailand? Should donors and international NGOs (INGO) pack up and move inside Myanmar? Not so fast. In fact, if donors and INGOs really want to support Myanmar, they should continue supporting community-based organizations and initiatives in Mae Sot.
Along the Thai-Myanmar border, Mae Sot has served as the hub city for thousands of refugees who fled Myanmar after violent crackdowns in the late-1990s. Over the years, Mae Sot has been a focal area for INGOs, community-based organizations, and development workers – to support the over 120,000 Myanmar refugees and over two million migrant workers in Thailand with everything from healthcare, educational support, job training, and legal help.
Now that ASSK’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has won the elections, the public perception is that Myanmar is generally on a quick path to reform, making the work of community-based organizations along the border less and less relevant. (more…)Continue Reading →
Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama visited three Southeast Asian countries in his first foreign trip after being reelected. The Asian media’s attention has focused on Obama’s visit to Burma, and as we point out in this post, the Indians are highlighting Obama’s trip as a continuation of the U.S. pivot, while the Chinese are downplaying its significance. For South Koreans, Burma’s liberalization evoked comparisons with North Korea’s political development.
- An op-ed in the Times of India expressed strong support for the U.S. pivot, listing a series of concrete measures that show the “seriousness of the competition for influence” and the “enduring impact of American democracy’s soft power” in Burma.
- Even The Hindu, generally more skeptical of U.S. power, gave credit to the Obama administration for crafting a Burma policy that is both more strategic and pragmatic than that of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
- The Indian Express, in contrast, was much more supportive of Indian foreign policy, arguing that Obama’s visit “vindicates” India’s past policy of gradually promoting change by engaging rather than isolating Burma. In the larger context of this U.S. pivot to Asia, Express columnist C. Raja Mohan noted that “smaller nations of Asia are caught in a bind.” He urged the Indian government to take on more responsibility as a rising power to “mitigate great power tensions and defuse regional conflicts in Asia.”
US policy toward Myanmar is shifting from one of isolation to engagement, as underscored by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s three day visit to Myanmar in early December. In this post, we highlight how this change is viewed in India and China, two major Asian powers with potentially competing interests in Myanmar.
Of the diverse range of Indian commentaries on this topic, a generally shared opinion is that this liberalization of relations with Myanmar shows that India’s policy of engagement since the mid-1990s has been the right approach all along.
- An Indian Express editorial states, India has “won the argument for bringing change and openness in Myanmar with a guiding presence rather than punishing sanctions.”
- After all, India has a range of concrete interests in Myanmar, including energy, trade and transport routes, border security and development of relations with ASEAN. India’s recent offer of $500 million in credit to Myanmar is an example of possible economic leverage, as the Times of Indiapointed out.
On the geopolitical implications of US engagement with Myanmar, many see this as an opportunity for India to counterbalance China through strengthened relations with Myanmar. See, for example,commentary by Shyam Saran, the former Indian ambassador to Myanmar.
- Some are wary of aligning too closely with the US on this issue. C. Raja Mohan, expressing what is known as a “Great Power Realist” school of thought, says India will have to “raise its game” with an “independent, credible and sustainable strategic engagement with Myanmar and its people.“
- The “Liberal Globalist” perspective is more optimistic about cooperating with the US. Sreeram Chaulia, Vice Dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs, argues that an “India-US team” with common geopolitical interests “can tilt Myanmar decisively away from authoritarianism and Chinese stranglehold.”
- The exception are Leftist opinions, such as this editorial in The Hindu, which are deeply suspicious of America’s pivot toward Asia and stress that China is an important neighbor that cannot be slighted.
A critical question is whether India’s relations with Myanmar should take into account the country’s progress in political liberalization. (more…)Continue Reading →