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Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

Immediate Steps for the United States on Myanmar

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, December 2, 2011
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (R) and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hold hands as they speak after meeting at Suu Kyi's residence in Yangon December 2, 2011.

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (R) and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hold hands as they speak after meeting at Suu Kyi's residence in Yangon December 2, 2011 (Saul Loeb/Courtesy Reuters).

In my new CFR Policy Innovation Memorandum, I outline a strategy for U.S. policy called conditional normalization, in which Washington would significantly boost its relationship with Myanmar provided the reforms in that country continue apace. This proposal is significantly farther than the Obama administration is willing to go at this point. On her trip to Myanmar, Hillary Clinton offered the Burmese government a few small carrots: The U.S. will allow Myanmar to join the Lower Mekong Initiative, which is a forum including Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the United States designed to discuss water issues and cooperation along the Mekong.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Clinton also “proposed that the United States and Myanmar work jointly to recover the remains of 600 U.S. soldiers who died in the country during World War II.” In addition, the United States will now no longer block potential IMF and World Bank aid efforts in Myanmar.

Although these are small steps, the administration should build on the Clinton visit by taking the following measures in the near term:

  1. First, the United States should begin the joint recovery initiative as quickly as possible. In other countries such as Laos that long had poor relations with the United States, joint recovery and demining programs were very useful in fostering people-to-people relationships, getting local government officials to see a more positive side of the United States, and breaking ground for larger efforts. Read more »

Rethinking U.S. Policy Toward Myanmar

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, December 1, 2011
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton smiles upon her arrival in Naypyitaw, Myanmar

U.S. Secretary of State Clinton smiles upon her arrival in Naypyitaw, Myanmar November 30, 2011 (Pool/Courtesy Reuters).

In the midst of her fact-finding trip to Myanmar, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already has offered some slight carrots to the Burmese government. She offered U.S. support for greater Burmese participation in IMF programs and Mekong regional programs. But these are minor steps, and do not move the ball forward substantially, or take advantage of what could be a historic opportunity in the Myanmar policy environment.

In a new CFR Policy Innovation Memo, I examine the current situation of reforms in Myanmar and propose a far more ambitious American strategy toward the country, one of conditional normalization. Read more »

United States and Myanmar: It’s Not All About China

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, December 1, 2011
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walks with Myanmar's President Thein Sein at the President's Office in Naypyitaw on December 1, 2011.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walks with Myanmar's President Thein Sein at the President's Office in Naypyitaw on December 1, 2011. (POOL / Courtesy of Reuters)

My colleague Josh Kurlantzick has done a great job tracking and analyzing the ongoing developments in U.S.-Myanmar relations over the past week or so. It is particularly worth checking out his policy innovation memo, which offers some timely advice for U.S. policymakers.

A lot of people are wondering  how China figures into the evolving U.S.-Myanmar relationship, and I was interviewed by The Diplomat on this topic a few days ago. Overall, my take is that China should not be a central consideration. Recent developments in U.S.-Myanmar relations are largely independent of the U.S.-China relationship and reflect instead a desire on the part of Myanmar’s leaders to begin reforming the country’s political and economic system and, within that process, to re-engage with the United States.

Read more »