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REVIEW ESSAY
The Myanmar Mirage
Why the West Got Burma Wrong
By
Sebastian Strangio

May/June 2020
In This Review
Just a few years ago, Myanmar (also called Burma) was widely seen as an international success story. In March 2011, after half a century of military rule, a quasi-civilian government led by the former general Thein Sein came to power and embarked on a remarkable campaign of political and economic reforms. Over the next year and a half, the government released dissidents, lifted press censorship, let the democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi reenter politics after spending years under house arrest, and opened peace talks with more than a dozen rebel groups. President Thein Sein’s administration also took important steps to rationalize an economy distorted by decades of autarkic socialist policies and harsh Western sanctions.
On the foreign policy front, Myanmar spurned China, its overbearing patron, by suspending unpopular infrastructure projects, and it moved to improve relations with the United States and the West. In late 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Yangon. Shortly after, Barack Obama made the first-ever visit to Myanmar by a sitting U.S. president, touting “the power of a new beginning.” As liberalization proceeded, Western countries lifted sanctions, and Myanmar rejoined the world. Aid and investment flooded into the country, along with a
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SEBASTIAN STRANGIO is a journalist covering Southeast Asia and the author of the forthcoming book In the Dragon’s Shadow: Southeast Asia in the Chinese Century.
MORE BY SEBASTIAN STRANGIO
More:Burma & Myanmar Domestic Politics Race & Ethnicity
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