Over the past 25 years, Burma has been variously described as a pawn of China, an important strategic pivot in the region, and a pariah state allied with North Korea. These perceptions prompted different approaches from the international community, ranging from the hard line taken by the US, focussed on sanctions and other punitive measures, to the softer line adopted by the ASEAN countries, which emphasised “constructive engagement”. None of these policies were able to dissuade Burma’s military government from pursuing its own path to a “disciplined democracy”. The unexpected appearance in 2011 of a new reformist government under President Thein Sein, however, has transformed Burma into a potential partner for countries like Australia, which is boosting its bilateral ties.
- Over the past 25 years, the international community’s perceptions of Burma have changed dramatically. It has variously been viewed as a pawn of China, an important strategic pivot in the region and a pariah state allied with North Korea.
- These perceptions have been influenced by several factors, ranging from moral and humanitarian concerns to more objective, evidence-based analyses. Reliable information about Burma, however, has always been hard to come by.
- The different attitudes taken towards Burma by the international community have prompted a wide range of policies. Some countries and organisations have favoured tough, punitive measures while others have preferred a much softer line.
- None of the approaches adopted by the international community seemed to have any appreciable impact on the military government’s core beliefs and key policies. Burma insisted on choosing its own path to a “disciplined democracy”.
- Since the advent of President Thein Sein’s reformist government in 2011, perceptions of Burma have changed yet again. It is now seen as a potential partner, sparking an effort by many countries, including Australia, to develop much closer bilateral relations.