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TOP 10 Events of 2012—No 1

sister publication, M-ZINE+, has selected what its editors have decided are the 10 biggest events or issues in Burma over the past 12 months.

We began the countdown on December 22 at No. 10, and have recalled one issue each day. Today, December 31 marks what they consider to be the most momentous event of the year.

Let us take this opportunity of thanking you, our readers, for your support in 2012. We hope you will stay with us as we embark on what promises to be another exciting year for Burma.

No. 1 US President Obama visits Burma
US President hugs Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during their meeting in Rangoon in November. (Photo: NLD)
It was not all that long ago that the United States and several other Western nations would chide Asian countries for inviting Burma [Myanmar] to organizational confabs. It looked like the guests were admonishing the hosts for inviting someone else to dinner they thought a bit too raffish for polite company. More than a little awkwardness and ill-will were the inevitable result.

But that was then and this is now. Burma has, at least in Western eyes, come in from the cold. The importance of US President Obama’s November visit to Rangoon, the first ever by a sitting American president to Burma, can be gauged in two directions—looking backwards and looking ahead.

Looking backwards, it can be seen as the culmination of a set of events and processes that brought dramatic change to the country in 2012. One can debate starting points. There is no doubt the Obama visit can serve as the most recent bookend. Short in duration at a mere six hours, it included a stop at arguably the country’s premier cultural centre, Shwedagon, and meetings with Burma’s two most important political leaders, Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Obama said what was to be expected, that there had been progress, including efforts to bring about ceasefires in the ethnic states, to release political prisoners, and to tread the road towards full democracy.

The meeting with the opposition leader got most of the press and seemed to possess more warmth—like that of two friends involved in a return visit—but the sit-down with the president, however much observers like to paint it as a reward for progressive actions, was just as important and perhaps even more so going forward.

Countries, when not consumed by illogical passions, tend to act in the national interest and the United States is no exception. US rhetoric about democratic change and human rights does have meaning and public opinion ensures that policymakers pay more than just lip service to it.

This, and the still remaining star power of the American leader in foreign eyes, allows the US to engage with the Burmese public in a way more difficult for China. One cannot imagine rows of Burmese citizens enthusiastically waiting to greet a Chinese leader’s speeding motorcade unless they were paid or told to do so. Such soft power should not be underestimated.

Nonetheless, economic and especially security interests should be ignored in the context of the US-Myanmar thaw. Burma possesses large amounts of desired natural resources and has a geo-strategic location. There’s oil, natural gas, metallic ores, and significant hydropower capacity.

The country borders China and India and is part of ASEAN. A better transport network and port facility upgrades could provide alternatives to the Malacca Straits chokepoint.

China is an emerging superpower, a prospect that no doubt pleases the Beijing leadership immensely but sets off various alarm levels nearby, where disputes over uninhabited islands can take on ominous tones.

China insists it is intent upon a “peaceful rise” and the US and others equally declaim that any “pivots” or security arrangements they make are not directed against the People’s Republic, despite the obvious appearance of one country spreading its wings and the other embarked on a containment strategy.

President Obama’s visit offered Thein Sein’s government a way to move, in the face of this situation, to a somewhat more nuanced political and economic foreign policy, to put, as it were, winds to its sails and tack more confidently between Scylla and Charybdis, as represented by the world’s two most powerful nations and their interests.

M-ZINE+ is a business weekly available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at
Last Updated ( Monday, 31 December 2012 13:34 )  

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