More liberalization in Myanmar (Burma), Myanmar government peace with Karen militants, Sino-Nepali ties, Sino-ASEAN summit and Ma Ying-jeou’s victory in Taiwan.
South East Asian was an extremely active region in the political sphere on the end of the second week of January, 2012. As China moved to refresh their ties with neighbors, The Taiwanese people re-elected the pro-Chinese president. Meanwhile, Myanmar took further drastic steps in reforms.
Myanmar (Burma): Reforms and Peace
Days after the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi, declared her intention to run for a seat in the legislative assembly, the Myanmar regime began releasing political prisoners. This came in the wake of the disappointing amnesty given in lieu of the Independence Day, barely ten days ago.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement can be seen as an endorsement of the current political reforms that has been carried out by the Thein Sein government. The United States has declared their intension of restoring full diplomatic ties with Myanmar.
Meanwhile, a ceasefire was agreed upon by the Myanmar government officials and the Karen National Union (KNU) in a bid to end what has been called “the world’s longest war”. The KNU and its military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) has been waging war with the Burmese government from 1949. The KNLA is one of the strongest among a plethora of rebel forces engaged in the internal conflict of Burma from independence in 1948.
Myanmar was also present when Chinese and ASEAN government officials have gathered in Beijing for a three day summit starting on January 14, 2012, to agree upon a code of conduct in the South China Sea. Last year saw the escalation of the dispute between some ASEAN members and China over the Spratley Islands. Vietnam in particular was extremely vocal in her protests of the Chinese government. However, the Vietnamese Vice Foreign Minister Pham Quang Vinh stated “It is a positive move in the right direction”.
Chinese Premier Visits Nepal
Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Prime Minister, made an official visit to Nepal and met with Nepali President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister and other leaders. It is the first visit by a Chinese premier after 2001. In his visit, Premier Wen has called the two countries as traditional friends. The ties between the two peoples go back to at least millennia. Nepal established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1955.
However, until recently, Nepali economy was connected almost exclusively with that of India as almost all imports and exports trade went through that country. Thousands of Nepali people still work in India. India was generally a supporter of the former monarchy in Nepal. However, in late 1980s the Indians enforced an embargo on the small neighbor. What followed were the economic hardships which helped the people’s movement and weakened the monarchy. The Chinese were able to establish better relations with the new democratically elected governments. In 1996, the then President of China, Jiang Zemin, paid a landmark visit to Nepal
With the rise of the Maoists, the picture changed even more. India clearly did not want to see a Maoist victory in the 2008 Constitutional Assembly elections but that is precisely what happened. The present government in Nepal is inclined to cultivate a healthy relationship with China more than with India. India was seen as a ‘big bad bully’ at a time when considering her relationship with her smaller neighbors. China on the other hand wants to portray that her friendship with smaller neighbors is a ‘no strings attached’ exemplary model to all big nations.
Elections in Taiwan
The People’s Republic of China(PRC) has every reason to be happy about the outcome in Taiwan, which is officially the Republic of China (RoC). The Beijing government considers Taiwan to be a province of China and has not ruled out a military means of unification. However, in real terms, the PRC cannot hope for such a reunification and advocates the “One Country Two Systems” model such as in Hong Kong and Macau. The Taiwanese leadership, bolstered by the aid by the United States, always stood up to the challenge from the Communist giant from across the Formosa Straits from 1949. But, as the geopolitical situation changed the isolation of the RoC increased. The former pariah state of PRC became the darling of the West from early 1970s and gradually the former friends of Taiwan became indifferent. The end of the cold war did not help the island nation either.
The Kuomintang (Nationalist Party or the KMT) transformed itself into a more conciliatory stance with respect to the PRC under a new generation of leaders. The China-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party ousted the KMT for the first time in 2000. However, the KMT returned to power in 2008. While the PRC did not recognize the RoC, economic ties were established, especially after 2008 under the present leader of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou. Ma has promised closer ties and lesser possibility of conflict with the PRC in the next four years. The result shows that the Taiwanese people are ready to deal with their neighbours across the Formosa Straits in friendly terms, unlike the case when the two governments were always at loggerheads during the cold war era. Also since the PRC is now a major economic power, it is advantageous for the RoC to have cordial relations with that country.