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Clinton harsh on Myanmar, but spare
Subject: Clinton harsh on Myanmar, but spares China (The Hindu, 29/11/96.)
Clinton harsh on Myanmar, but spares China
The Hindu, 29/11/96.
>From Sridhar Krishnaswami
WASHINGTON, Nov. 28.
After nearly two weeks of foreign policy in the Asia Pacific, the
U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton, comes home to the
Thanksgiving holiday knowing well that when the weekend is
over it will be back to pending business. The three-nation Asia
Pacific trip of the President that ended with a high-profile
reception in Thailand did not contain any surprises on the
foreign policy administration seen as waffling about its role in
the region. Washington says it is firmly engaged for the
It is somewhat odd that Mr. Clinton sought to attack Myanmar
for its track record on human rights and democracy as well as
over narcotics during his visit to Thailand. While this would
undoubtedly be welcomed in human rights quarters, many
would be puzzled that the American President who had such
harsh words for the junta in Yangon had very little to say to the
Chinese President, Mr. Jiang Zemin, when they met in Manila a
few days earlier. Mr. Clinton's observations about the absence
of the rule of law in Myanmar is once again a grim reminder of
the patent double standards in the pursuit of national interests.
The foreign policy line is quite simple: protection of American
economic interests in a part of the world bristling with
economic activity. If Mr. Clinton had the luxury of lashing out
at the junta in Yangon, that is because America-based
multinational corporations have either exhausted their options in
this small South East Asian. country or come to the conclusion
that Myanmar is too small a pick compared to China.
As for Myanmar and Vietnam, the- U.S. administration should
have taken a leaf out of the strategic vision notebook of South
East Asia. Although the capitals of South East Asia would not
say so, their intent to accommodate Vietnam and Myanmar has
to do with China; in other words, their fear of pushing
Myanmar further into the hands of the Chinese.
The so-called American logic of using trade and economic
contacts to promote an easing of the political environment stops
with China and for some 'unexplained' reason the same
yardstick cannot be used with Yangon where economic
sanctions are seen as the only option. Countries like japan have
long been wary of Yangon's special ties with Beijing, and aside
from the apprehension of Myanmar being turned into an
extended Chinese lake they are worried about the future of
shipping lanes in and around the Coco Islands in the Andamans.
Mr. Clinton's Asia Pacific trip has been primarily seen in the
context of Ins fourth meeting with the President of China, the
things that have been said in public and what may have
transpired in the meetings of the President and other senior
officials of the administration with their counterparts from
In the midst of all the economic dynamism of South East Asia,
the fact remains that critical political changes are taking place.
While these changes do not have to add up to Western notions
of democracy and human rights, it is obvious that political
movements in that part of the world point to major changes in
the way politics could be defined and conducted in the years to
come. Indonesia is one of those countries which has kept the
region and the world guessing as to whether it will be settling
for one more five year term for its President Mr. Suharto and
the extent to which the Government in Jakarta would permit an
expanded civilian role in the political system. As a critical
player economically and strategically, political uncertainty in
Indonesia does not augur well for South-East Asia or for
American interests in the Asia Pacific.