Showing Juntas Some Love

Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar President Thein Sein.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar President Thein Sein.

An Associated Press headline reads China vows closer military ties with North Korea.

China said Friday it would strengthen military ties with ally North Korea. … The vow follows a three-day visit to the North by the Chinese military’s top political commissar, Li Jinai, during which he told North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that China’s army wanted to enhance understanding and mutual trust and strengthen practical exchanges with the North Korean military.

Why now?

Although Li’s trip was likely planned in advance, recent remarks by President Barack Obama asserting the U.S. military’s continuing presence in Asia have riled Beijing. Chinese government-backed scholars and state media say they see the strengthening of America’s alliance’s with the Philippines, Australia and others as a new form of encirclement aimed at blocking China’s rising predominance in the region.

Meanwhile, last August, in that junta in democracy’s clothing known as Burma, reads a Guardian headline, Aung San Suu Kyi meets Burma’s president Thein Sein. Then, on Monday, November 14, the AP ran a story headlined: Suu Kyi says Myanmar government has taken positive steps toward reform, more needs to be done.

Thein Sein was prime minister under the junta led by Than Shwe and was elected president in 2010, when AP reports, “As expected, the polls brought to power a proxy party for the military.” Myanmar “democracy icon” Aung San Suu Kyi, as AP calls her, stated that she believed Thein Sein was committed to reforms.

“I personally believe that he is very genuine in his desire for the process of democratization,” Suu Kyi said.

Next, on Friday, November 18, a BBC headline read Suu Kyi’s NLD democracy party to rejoin Burma politics

On Friday her National League for Democracy said it would register to run in the as yet unscheduled by-elections. The party boycotted the last polls in November 2010, the first in 20 years.

On the same day a Reuters headline read Obama opens door to new U.S. ties with Myanmar.

“We want to seize what could be a historic opportunity for progress and make it clear that if Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform, it can forge a new relationship with the United States of America,” Obama said.

And the big news:

Clinton’s two-day visit from December 1 would be the first by a U.S. Secretary of State since a 1962 military coup ushered in 50 years of unbroken military rule that ended in March when a nominally civilian parliament was established.

The cherry on top: UN Supports Burma’s Selection to Chair ASEAN.

At the East Asia Summit Saturday, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed support for the decision by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, to choose Burma to chair its meetings in 2014. … “Now the United Nations welcomes, just as ASEAN did, the recent developments of the situation under the leadership of [Burmese] President Thein Sein, releasing political prisoners and taking proactive initiatives to reform their political systems,” he said.

What’s the moral here — or, in the case of juntas — the im-moral? With NORK, simply that occasionally the tide of regional politics will turn in its favor. In Burma’s case, token reforms can be just enough to provide an opening for a Western world eager to trade for resources monopolized by China and India to poke through.