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Understanding Myanmar

Introduction

Myanmar's repressive military regime faces new scrutiny by the international community and competing calls for sanctions and greater engagement with the regime. In February 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a review of U.S. policy toward Myanmar (which is also known as Burma), acknowledging that Washington's policy so far--isolating the regime through sanctions--had failed. "The unfortunate fact," Clinton said, is that "Burma seems impervious to influence from anyone." After nearly twenty years of staying mostly out of the international spotlight, the southeast Asian country grabbed headlines in September 2007 following wide-spread protests by Buddhist monks, the so-called "Saffron revolution." The ruling junta's slow response and its initial blockade of international aid efforts for the victims of a deadly cyclone in May 2008, which killed over 140,000 people, led some Western leaders and rights groups to call for forced humanitarian intervention. The country's pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest and faces ever more pressure from the regime. The junta has decided to hold elections in 2010 under a new 2008 constitution that has been widely criticized for further entrenching military rule. The government refused to uphold the results of the last elections in 1990 in which Suu Kyi's party garnered a majority of the vote.

Limited International Influence

International policy towards Myanmar is varied, theEconomist notes--it runs the gamut from harsh U.S. sanctions to milder sanctions by Europe and Japan to full commercial engagement by neighbors China, India, and the member states of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The United States imposed sanctions after the 1988 brutal crackdown by the military on protests spearheaded by monks and students, including a ban on the export of financial...

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