Myanmar in balancing act between its neighbors and the West

Featured - September 24th, 2012

Myanmar is facing a tough balancing act between building new relations in the west and looking after its interests closer to home, as President Thein Sein visits the US this week.

Financial Times reports that China is concerned that relations with its southeast-Asian ally could falter under greater Western influence. Mr. Thein Sein consoled China that the “transition to democracy would not alter their important bilateral friendship” in a meeting with Xi Jinping ahead of his trip to New York where he will be speaking at the United Nations’ General Assembly on Thursday. One adviser told Mr. Thein Sein that it was a “big moment” for the leader to highlight Myanmar’s “remarkable diplomatic gains” that could encourage Washington and Brussels to lift sanctions and yield to closer ties with the west.

Myanmar sees China as an important ally, having “provided a large amount of sincere support and help and stood at Myanmar’s side at the most difficult times,” Mr. Thein Sein said. China poured in investment worth billions of dollars for infrastructure, including a temporarily suspended $3.7 billion Myitsone dam project. The two countries signed nine bilateral economic and trade cooperation pacts and two financial transactions agreements.

“Myanmar is at present in a transitional phase, and its policy of seeing China as a true friend has not changed,” Chinese officials quoted Mr. Thein Sein’s statement to Mr. Xi. Thant Myint-U, a member of Mr. Thein Sein’s advisory panel told the Financial Times that “Washington seems to understand that Myanmar needs to have a balanced set of relations”. The US dropped President Thein Sein from the list of sanctioned individuals ahead of his visit that follows Aung San Suu Kyi’s first trip to the US.