It turns out that Burma may need China after all. Reformers had hoped that the transition from a military regime to democracy would bring in new foreign investment to help Burma wean itself from support from its massive neighbor to the north, which was its main patron during decades of international isolation. But it hasn’t quite turned out that way.
Myanmar is home to a growing wave of anti-Muslim sentiment, as seen in the troubling 969 movement. The numerical significance of the digits is rooted in Buddhism’s Three Jewels (Tiratana), which comprise 24 attributes: nine special attributes of Lord Buddha, six core Buddhist teachings, and nine attributes of monkhood.
Thein Sein often mentions that the aim of Myanmar’s foreign policy is to live peacefully with the rest of the world. Who would disagree with this vague formulation? But in more specific terms, Myanmar’s current foreign policy can be best termed “Look West”—similar to India’s “Look East” and the American “Pivot toward Asia.”
Burma’s transition to a world of economic opportunity, and political freedom was always going to be difficult, and the success of the new regime is still far from assured. Decades of corrupt military rule have left deep scars on the country. And recovering from this will be extremely difficult whilst ever these same military people continue to occupy positions of power.
The country has 7.8 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves, worth about $75 billion at current U.K. benchmark prices. Neighbors India and China covet the stuff. In a recent report, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that energy and industries such as agriculture need a combined $320 billion through 2030 for Myanmar’s economy to pull off 8 percent annual growth.
Mr. Abe should consider what kinds of concrete contributions he should make to help advance democratization in Myanmar.