May 29, 2020
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Thant Myint-U

Author of a rare, intelligent history of Burma, The River of Lost Footsteps, he says economic engagement can help his isolated country

Thant Myint-U
Thant Myint-U
Is Burma a spoilt Shangri La or an ‘outpost of tyranny’?

Burma has never been an idyllic place of the imagination. It’s important to see Burma both as a place with a repressive government and civil war for a clearer impression.

Burma was all about ‘connectivity’ in historical times. Today it’s isolated.

One of the saddest things has been the loss of cosmopolitanism and the many connections with other parts of the world. Burma is at the crossroads and that’s its greatest asset.

Why do you oppose sanctions?

Sanctions can only work if they are universal or part of a dynamic diplomatic process. Partial sanctions keep the country in a halfway house.

How else to make the generals pay heed?

These are not generals desperately desirous of shopping trips to America or sending their children abroad for studies. The initial goal has to be to end isolation. Increased tourism would have a major impact.

Is Aung San Suu Kyi a symbol or a relic?

She is indispensable. Her domestic support and international credibility are indisputable.

Can China push Burma towards democracy?

China has influence but not enough to push on fundamental issues. The question is, does China want democratic transition?

The West’s moral outrage: rhetoric or real?

People were moved by images of protests.

Are Burma’s natural resources a factor in how others approach it?

They have made a difference to China’s and India’s thinking.

What about India’s security interests?

India has to maintain cordial relations with the government because of insurgencies.

What should India’s policy be?

India can help in poverty alleviation and malnutrition. It is a natural role for India.

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