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SELECTIVE DIPLOMACY: A COMPARISON OF US FOREIGN POLICY

TOWARDS MYANMAR AND NORTH KOREA

Lt Col Sebastian Arokiaraj William RMAF was commissioned into the Royal
Malaysian Air Force as a General Duty Pilot (GDP) on 25th February 1992. He has
served in various RMAF squadrons as an operational fighter pilot as well as an
Instructor Pilot and Fighter Weapons Instructor (FWI). His last assignment prior to
MAFDC was as the Commanding Officer of No 17 Squadron in Kuantan Airbase,
having flown the MiG29 for 15 years. He has a Diploma in Information Technology
from UNITAR and Diploma in Defence and Strategic Studies from University
Malaya.

ABSTRACT

This study explores the behaviour of big states towards small states in favour of their
own interests as prescribed by Kenneth Waltzs definition of Neo-Realist Theory
where the behaviour of states is explained by their need for survival in the
international system and the environment surrounding them. This paper uses a
qualitative research method and makes a comparison study using Myanmar and North
Korea as units of comparison to explain how the US Foreign Policy differs in
treatment of Myanmar and North Korea although both once were in the same pariah
state category in Washingtons perception. The puzzle that drove this research is to
explore the reasons why the US Foreign Policy is more accommodative towards
Myanmar, but antagonistic towards North Korea although both states showed similar
negative traits and behaviour towards the preservation of human rights and
democracy, which is part of the US Foreign Policys core tenets. The assumption
made through this research is that China plays a significant role in the decisions
made by the US in its Foreign Policy towards Myanmar and North Korea, resulting in
the differential approach towards these two states. This study found that the US
realizes that it is losing its grip on the Asia-Pacific region and is fighting hard to
recover lost ground through its rebalancing policy, and Myanmar has directly
benefitted from US rapprochement efforts. However, North Korea still does not seem
to attract any favour or interest of the US or China to either reforms or economic
assistance. Apart from Pyongyangs pursuit of nuclear weapons capability that has
been condemned by the world community, its deplorable human rights violations and
authoritarian governance is very much similar to that of Myanmar prior to 2009. This
research finds that China plays a major role in the US decision to pivot back to Asia
and Chinas growing influence in the region has resulted in Washington having to
selectively create new partnerships with states, especially those with geo-strategic
importance such as Myanmar. Thus, the differential treatment between Myanmar and
North Korea by Washington in its foreign policy is a direct result of Chinas rise in
the region.

BACKGROUND
The paradox of how the US approaches the two different states in the same region is
perplexing to say the least. Considering that as recent as 2010, Myanmar (Burma as
referred to by the US1) had faced more restrictions and opposition from the US in
comparison to North Korea2. Both states have displayed blatant practices disregarding
human rights and democracy which are among the main pillars of the US Foreign
Policy, namely to promote human rights and democracy in every state they attempt to
engage politically or diplomatically.
The politics of Myanmar (Burma before 1989) has been a tumultuous affair.
Since the military junta had assumed their power in 1962, the oppressive regime
became constantly embroiled in cases of international outcry related to human rights
violations. Washington has been showing great concern towards the governance of
Myanmar since the early 1990s.3 The US had also protested the inclusion of Myanmar
as a member of ASEAN on 23rd July 1997.

In 2006, Myanmar was projected to take over the chair of ASEAN, but due to
overwhelming disputes by the US, European Union and Britain, Myanmar was held
off from holding that appointment.4 However, after US Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clintons visit to Naypyidaw in 2011, followed by President Barack Obamas
visit in 2012, the US went through a complete shift in its policies towards Myanmar.

1
The US, UK and the EU have refused to accept the name change from Burma to Myanmar in
1989 as a sign of defiance to the policies of the Military Junta. Therefore, all references to Myanmar
by these three entities especially in official documents are commonly seen as Burma.
2
Seth, A. 2012. United States Relations With Burma: From Hostility to Hope. Regional Outlook
Paper. 1(36)
3
Hadar, L. T. 1998. US Sanctions Against Burma: A Failure on All Fronts.
http://www.cato.org/pubs/trade/tpa-001.html (27 February 2016).
4
Than. T.M.M. 2006. Myanmar: Challenges Galore But Opposition Failed To Score. Southeast
Asian Affairs, 183-207.
This turnaround in policy includes the increased trade and foreign aid in rebuilding
Myanmars economy and infrastructure whilst promoting democracy to the ruling
Myanmar government.5 As a result of this shift in the US policy, the US was able to
accept Myanmar as Chair of ASEAN on 1st January 2014, thus directly helping it to
gain political legitimacy both globally and regionally, as a member of ASEAN in a
stark contrast to the protests by the US against its candidacy as the regional bodys
chair in 2006.6

North Korea on the other hand continues to be in the black book of the US and
its allies. Historically, US and North Korea have fought against each other during the
Korean War that lasted from 1950 to 1953. Both sides suffered heavy losses during
the conflict. Although an armistice is currently in place, the Korean Peninsula is still
technically at war with minor skirmishes and border tit-for-tats which occurs
occasionally. The Problem Statement put forward for this research is that compared to
North Korea, US foreign policy towards Myanmar is considered to be more
accommodative due to differing strategic interests that the US has in the two regions
(Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia). This is despite both Myanmar and North Korea
displaying similar traits of human rights violations, non-democratic governance, and
the way both these states reacted towards Washingtons reconciliatory attempts.

As a dominant global economic and military powerhouse, the US has always


sought to use its capability and capacity to influence how smaller states behave
towards its policies. Waltzs contention that a states behavior can be a product of
competition among other states, and this can explain the US cautiousness towards
Chinas increasing influence in the Asia-Pacific region, and its increasing economic
support for Myanmar. This also explains why the US has decided to forego its earlier
hard stance towards Myanmar and adopted a soft power approach in competition to
Chinas approach.

THE US PIVOT OR REBALANCING POLICY IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC


REGION
The events of September 11, 2001 shifted the attention of the US towards a new
dimension of global threat in the Central and South Asia, particularly in Afghanistan,
Iraq and Pakistan. Driven to sought for justice on the attacks in New York, the
Pentagon, and the intended attack on Washington DC took the US through a decade of
military and economic intervention under the pretext of combatting terrorism in the
above-mentioned regions. Within the decade, the US strategic influence in the Asia-

5
US Department of State. 2014. Diplomacy In Action: US Assistance to Burma.
http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ ps/2014/230463.htm (29 May 2016)
6
Brandon, John J. 2014. ASEAN Chairmanship Offers Opportunity for Myanmar - The Asia
Foundation. The Asia Foundation. http://asiafoundation.org/ 2014/01/08/asean-chairmanship-
offers-opportunity-for-myanmar/. (12 Nov 2016)
Pacific region appeared to dwindle and became overshadowed by the increasing
dominance of China and India in the economy and diplomatic relations with regional
states, especially in Southeast Asia.

Considering the increasing importance of retaining its influence and diplomacy


in the Asia Pacific, Washington embarked to rebrand its approach to the region, under
the moniker of Pivot to Asia or Rebalancing towards Asia. This policy has been
widely described as a significant shift in Washingtons approach to the region and
depicted its commitment to foster a deeper engagement with regional states.7 The
Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton coined the term Pivot to Asia in an October 2011
article when she described it as Americas prologue to its Asia Pacific Century. 8 She
reiterated her stand a month later by saying that the future of politics will be decided
in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the
action.9

TENETS OF US PIVOT POLICY


The US realises that the Asia Pacific is a region of big economic potential and also a
region it has been actively involved in for more than a century. Therefore, it is only
logical for the biggest economy in the world to refocus its attention into rebuilding
extensive ties in diplomacy, economy, and security areas with its friends in the region
while seeking to mend or reconcile the ties which were lost through the years.

The Obama Administration saw the lack of strategic focus and gradual decline
in influence in an era, especially when many Asia Pacific states were seeking for a
greater involvement of the US in the region.10 The decision to rebalance or pivot to
Asia came about at a time when the US was re-evaluating its military commitments in
the Middle East and South Asia, with a gradual reduction in force level looming and
increasing calls for a pull-out of US military troops from conflict areas. Seizing this
window of opportunity to re-focus its attention towards Asia, six key efforts or areas
of interest were drawn up for the US to concentrate on for its pivot to Asia.

Alliances
The US has existing alliances in Asia Pacific that it strives to preserve in order to
retain its presence in the region. Therefore, it is not surprising that a strong priority
7
Mishra, R. 2015. The US Rebalancing Strategy: Responses from Southeast Asia. Asian
Strategic Review 2014.
https://www.academia.edu/6505539/The_US_Rebalancing_Strategy_Pivot_to_Asia_
Responses_from_Southeast_Asia?auto=download. (10 June 16).
8
Clinton, Hillary. Americas Pacific Century.
9
Turner, Oliver. Parmar et al (eds). 2014. The US Pivot to the Asia Pacific. In Obama and the
World. New York: Routledge. 219.
10
Campbell and Andrews. 2013. Explaining the US Pivot to Asia. Chatham House, 2.
https://www.chathamhouse.org/ sites/files/chathamhouse/public/Research/Americas/
0813pp_pivottoasia.pdf. (12 June 16).
was given by Washington in renewing its commitment to existing allies and looking at
the possibility of other potential allies.

Improving Relationships with Emerging Powers


The second priority in the Pivot is to improve the relationship between the US and
other friendly states or partners, and emerging regional powers such as India and
China, though the US is much more concerned with the rapid accession of China
turning into the second biggest economy in the world, and the increasing influence
that it has in the region. The greatest challenge for the US at this moment is to regain
its own sphere of influence within the Asia-Pacific region whilst building rapport with
China and finding ways to cement a strong and robust relationship with them.

Economic Relationship
Recognising that the Asia-Pacific region is fast becoming a major player in global
economics, the Pivots third priority focuses on economic relationships as an
important element in US Foreign Policy. This is in order to strengthen its economic
recovery post 2007 economic crisis. While the existing trade partnerships such as the
US-Korea Free Trade Agreement has already elevated US trade in the region, the
recent launched of Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) has further enhanced
the economic relationship between US and other economies into a single trading
entity.

Engaging Multinational Institutions


The US recognises the importance of a strong regional body like ASEAN and the
commitment its member states bring along towards preserving its fundamentals.
Washington sees that the active engagement of multinational institutions like ASEAN
could pave a smooth path to establish or strengthening the ties with its member states,
especially the developing ones such as Myanmar.11 This engagement initiative forms
the fourth element of the Pivot, and the US has established itself as the first non-
member with a permanent mission representative in ASEAN. A well-integrated and
strong ASEAN will ease the US Foreign Policy implementation in the region with
ASEAN playing the role of mediator between its members and Washington when
necessary.

11
Interview with Tan Sri Razali Ismail, former Chairman of the UN General Assembly and UN Special
Envoy to Myanmar at his residence on 15 April 2016.
Support for Universal Values
The US wants to be seen as a champion of human rights and democracy, and these
values are at the heart of every diplomatic engagement the US has embarked on in the
Asia Pacific. They are considered as an intrinsic part of Americas national identity
and Washington has never been shy of highlighting human rights violations and
undemocratic practices in states it has vested interest in.

Increasing US Military Presence


The sixth element of the Pivot is the restoration of US military representation in the
Asia Pacific region. Not wanting to be misinterpreted as trouble makers, the US has
tailored its security engagements towards broader national agendas such as diplomacy,
enhancing trade, economic and social development, promoting values, and increasing
collaborations with regional multinational institutions.12

PERCEPTIONS AND PERSPECTIVES ABOUT US PIVOT POLICY


Amitav Acharya views that China has always seen the practice of Rebalancing
towards Asia as squeezing and tightening its own space. It was also seen as a form of
containment by the US in order to balance out Chinese influence in the region. He
adds that Chinese officials will always be wary of US initiatives to renew their ties
with regional states and regarded them as detrimental to Chinas interests.13

President Obama is aware of the fact that the US is still viewed by many Asian
states as their primary partner in security while they also view China as their primary
source for economic prosperity. Therefore, Washington is aware that most Asian
governments would be willing to defer their commitments to the US in favour of
China, especially when the management of the global economic matters is taken into
consideration.14 It is this cautionary matter that drives the US in its rigourous
campaign to recoup its influence especially among growing economies in the region
such as Myanmar. These growing economies are still looking for a sense of economic
security through foreign direct investments, and nations such as Myanmar are the
prospective targets.

Kim Changsus opinion enlightened the study through the South Korean
perspective on the Pivot by concluding that six decades of existential threats from

12
Ibid.
13
Acharya, A. 2013. Why Two Asias May Be Better Than None. World Politics Review, 810.
(18 June 2016).

14
Chan et al. 2010. Obamas Trade Strategy Runs into Stiff Resistance. New York Times. 11
November.
North Korea, existing close ties with Washington since the Korean War, geographic
proximity and increasing interdependence in economy with an increasingly powerful
China, and unresolved disputes with Japan which goes back more than a century are
good enough reasons to have a powerful US presence in the region. 15 While most
South Korean scholars view the pivot as having very little effect on them due to the
existing strong partnership with the US, they do agree that a strategic realignment by
the US towards this region will be supported.16

Much has been speculated about the true intentions and objectives of the US
decision to rebalance or pivot to Asia. Some of these questions hang around the
expected time frame for the US commitment to the rebalance or if it is merely
ephemeral in nature due to the current domination of China in the Asia Pacific region.
Whilst the increased involvement of the US spells a sense of security for some
regional states who are in contention with China for territorial ownership, others
questioned the need for Washington to meddle in the geo-politics of Southeast Asia,
and the Asia Pacific region in fear of igniting a race for power and dominance.
While Washington insists that its motives are innocent and was tailored to
meet the demands of a secure, stable and friendly Asia Pacific. However, China has its
own reservations as to why the US has chosen to refocus its attention to Asia at a time
when China is at the peak of securing its String of Pearls and Maritime Silk Road
through the Asia Pacific. How deep is the involvement and influence of China on
regional states and how much will it affect US own interests? President Obama
himself has embarked on an unprecedented journey to re-establish diplomatic ties with
Asian leaders through his series of official visits and involvement in regional summits,
something his predecessors did very little of. The fact remains that the US sees itself
playing a pivotal role in Asia Pacific through this century and to cement itself as a
friend and confidant to smaller states. Similarly, the depth of relationship China has
with certain states in the region also appears to affect the policies of the US towards
these states. How do they differ, and why does the US seek these different approaches
when dealing with these two states remains to be analyzed and will be deliberated in
this paper.

US FOREIGN POLICY TOWARDS MYANMAR


In 2009, the US was singing to a totally different tune from its previous opposition on
Myanmars undemocratic governance and human rights violations. They had launched
a policy of principled engagement that included direct high-level dialogues with

15
Kim, Changsu. 2014. South Koreas Adaptation to the US Pivot to Asia. In The New US
Strategy Towards Asia: Adapting to the American Pivot, edited by William Tow and Douglas Stuart, 91.
Routledge Security in Asia Pacific Series. London: Taylor & Francis.
16
Tow and Stuart. The New US Strategy Towards Asia: Adapting to the American Pivot. 3
Myanmars authorities. This became the signs of improvements especially for the
diplomatic relations between the two states. This also paved the way for democratic
elections to be held in November 2010, and the formation of a new civil government
in March 2011. Several measures were taken by the new government to indicate its
willingness to reform. This included the release of political prisoners, removal of
media censorship, ceasefire talks with ethnic minority rebels, and having
parliamentary by-elections.17 The current status of Myanmar is keen to be portrayed as
a civil government and wants to be recognised by other global states. Undoubtedly the
renewed relationship between the US and Myanmar has improved the way Myanmar
is viewed globally and as expectations are high for the elected government to continue
its progress towards establishing an ethical and democratic development.

China views Southeast Asia as its Southwest doorstep, and a potential source
of security threat if it is not managed effectively. Because of this, China viewed US
involvement with any Southeast Asian states as a thorn on its side especially when
Chinese leaders have long considered Myanmar as one of the solutions to its Malacca
Dilemma apart from the proposed Kra Isthmus Canal that has met with much
opposition from other Southeast Asian states.

The US strategy of containment towards China could also be attributed to


Chinas String of Pearls development programme that sees major investments by
the Chinese in port infrastructure along its major maritime trade route. Myanmar is
included in this programme, expected to play a big role in it as well. 18 Jrgen Haacke
in 2012 pointed out that while the US welcomes Chinas economic growth and as its
major economic trading partner, the latters growing military power and increasing
influence in the region is becoming a major concern for the US.19
The US response to Myanmars effort was to ease the selected economic and
financial restrictions or sanctions in July 11, 2012 with the aim to spur more reforms
and changes while contributing to the development of the countrys economy. This in
essence was done to promote democratic governance and practices while being fully
aware of the increasing role of China in the region and existing influences in
Myanmar. The new Myanmar government that was formed on March 30, 2011, and
they have embarked on a path to firmly capitalising on the rapprochement with the
US. It also presents an opportunity for Myanmar to reform its education and
institutional capacities in forms of a wider prospects for development opportunities,

17
Hill, C. 2012. Burma: Domestic Reforms and International Responses. Parliamentary
Library, no. 22 May 2012. http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/ParliamentaryDepartments/
Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2011-2012/Burma. (26 July 2016)
18
Marantidou, V. 2014. Revisiting Chinas String of Pearls Strategy: Places with Chinese
Characteristics and Their Security Implications. Issues & Insights 14 (7).
19
Haacke, J. Myanmar: Now a Site for SinoUS Geopolitical Competition?
and humanitarian aid. At the same time, they envisioned to help improving
Myanmars standing among the international community.

US FOREIGN POLICY TOWARDS NORTH KOREA


When President Obama took over his first term in office in 2009, he extended North
Korea an offer of reconciliation during his inaugural speech with hope of breaking the
long standoff over the latters nuclear program. Instead of showing any signs of
appreciation, Kim Jong-Ill conducted several multi-stage rocket and nuclear tests
between April and May of 2009. Secretary Clinton described the Obama
administrations first principle in approaching North Korea will be on a strategic
patience basis as they believed that North Koreas constant provocation act would
only lead them to self-isolation from its neighbours.

Washington has to thread on a fine line when trying to attempt a re-


engagement with Kim Jong-Uns regime. Its closest allies in East Asia, Japan and
South Korea are ever cautious with the recalcitrant Kim and his constant provocative
acts against his immediate neighbours. Washington would not want to upset these two
close allies for the sake of renewing ties with a regime that has even directly
threatened the security of the continental United States of America through numerous
media outbursts and propaganda news.

The US Pivot policy to Asia also details a more comprehensive economic and
strategic collaboration with China, though many views the US motives to be more of
competitiveness and containment of Chinas expansion in regional influence.20
However, this Sino-US cooperation, if it works according to the aspirations of the US,
can be a platform of mediation in approaching North Korea as it appears that the US
does intend to use China as a cushion for its policies towards Pyongyang. After all,
China has been a supportive ally and one of the economic pillars to North Korea
amidst the extensive sanctions imposed on it through the years. If Pyongyang was to
look for a shoulder to rely on, Beijing would be the closest and dearest, if historical
accounts are to be taken into account.

STRATEGIC MONOPOLY OR STRANGE BEDFELLOWS


The importance of the Asia-Pacific regions economic capacity to the US and China
has been very evident in the last decade. However, active engagement of ASEAN by
China in recent years has shed a new light on the potential China brings to regional
states. Through ASEAN, China has enjoyed close to USD500 billion of two-way trade
in 2014. This was thanks to the Chinese Premier Zhu Rongjis initiative which was
20
Swaine, M. 2012. Chinese Leadership and Elite Responses to the US Pacific Pivot. China
Leadership Monitor 38: 126.
done through the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area.21 This collaborative effort also
include Chinas expansion of its Official Development Assistance programme for
ASEAN member states and this has largely benefited Myanmar in infrastructure
upgrades and their developments.22 Chinas One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative
was launched during the APEC Summit in Beijing in October 2014 by Chinese
President Xi JinPing. This had included a USD40bil assistance scheme, and the setting
up of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in which China would be
coughing up more than half of its USD50bil capital23 which will serve as a strong
magnet for Myanmar to rope itself into Chinas circle of friends.

However, Myanmar has also been playing it smart not to be seen to be too
dependent on Chinas handout. This is because Myanmar also sees the importance of
keeping a safe distance from China in order to continue attracting the US interest in
developing its economy and also forging their military relationship. Myanmar will be
smart to exploit the USs desperation to garner more diplomatic mileage in the region
to compete with China. Since 2009, Washington has been gradually reducing its
sanctions towards Naypyidaw in light of the latters perceived move towards reforms
and economic investments by US firms has increased significantly. 24 Although some
conditions were set by Washington to ensure the ruling Myanmar government keeps
to its reform efforts, the significance of the US presence in Myanmar goes beyond
just economic assistance from a big state to a small state, but also a stage for keeping
Chinas relationship with Myanmar in check. Chinas OBOR initiative includes a
massive instrastructure development in Myanmars main ports which in turn will
serve as staging ports for the Peoples Liberation Armys Naval vessels plying the
IOR under the pretext of keeping vigilance over its trade routes. This increased
Chinese Naval presence in the IOR puts creates another dent in US ambitions to
regain its military prowess in the region, in addition to the increased tension between
China and the US in the South China Sea.

Both China and the US have been quick to dismiss any notion of strategic
competition in the Asia-Pacific region. Although both seemed obviously irate over
whatever action the other makes, they prefered to portray a perception of co-existence
for mutual benefit. In 2014, US Ambassador to China, Gary Locke spared no efforts
to reiterate US policy towards collaborative engagements with China in Asia. He
stressed that the US looks forward to share the same fundamental goals in the
development of the Asia Pacific because the region presents a significant economic

21
Interview with Senior Colonel Zhang Zhing Min PLA, Defence Attache of China to Malaysia
at his residence on 13 September 2016.
22
Wong, John. 2015. Chinas One Belt, One Road Initiative: Economic Diplomacy With
Chinese Characteristics. Silk Road Forum 2015, 18. Singapore. http://en.drc.gov.cn/ JohnWong.pdf.
(4 October 2016).
23
Ibid.
24
US Companies Investing in Burma. 2014. Houston. http://www.uscampaignforburma.org/
images/USCB_Report_Card_US_Companies_Investing_In_Burma.pdf. (4 October 2016).
vitality for both. He called for more open and frank dialogues towards sustained
engagements and to foster cooperation to avoid unnecessary friction through amicable
problem solving efforts and look forward to a more prosperous mutual future. 25 In
fact, the US has been selling this idea of mutual co-existence with China since 2012
when its rebalancing strategy first resurfaced. Chinas cautious stance towards US
intentions in its rebalancing or pivot to Asia was not unfounded. Asia is home to over
40 percent of the worlds population and contributes to almost 60 percent of global
GDP.26 Asia will undoubtedly have a profound effect on the world economy as a
whole and anyone who owns Asia will systematically own the world. The US
Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) initiative to gather more economic partners in the
region closely mirrors Chinas AIIB in terms of motive and strategic values.

As far as North Korea is concerned, it appears to be a game of pushing the


responsibility to the other for several obvious reasons. Firstly, the Kim family regime
will not back down from its current aggressive stance. Only a regime change will be
able to bring about rehabilitation. Secondly, the cost of North Korean economic
rehabilitation is expected to be enormous after decades of economic neglection and
mismanagement, too much for either one of the superpowers to manage by themselves
and as such, only a joint effort is logical. Thirdly, North Koreas nuclear development
programme is a thorn on the side of both US and China. The constant threats of
nuclear weapon tests has irked both China and US as well a other regional states. A
solution to this problem does not seem to be anywhere near the horizon and will take
great commitment from both US and China to handle this matter.

CONCLUSION
The 2011 announcement by Washington of its intention to refocus its attention from
the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region certainly caused a conundrum to all states
in this region. It had received mixed feelings of elation for those looking for a bigger
US involvement in the regions economy and security, and a sense of distrust for those
wary of the actual intentions of the US shift. Myanmar is one state which had
identified in this research that has both US and Chinas interest in terms of economy,
diplomatic and military. More significantly, the US is more than willing to put its
earlier condemnation of the ruling Myanmar military regimes past practices through
relaxation of sanctions under the pretext of moving forward with the juntas promise
of human rights reform and democratic governance, two of the most prominent focus
in any the US foreign policy towards other states. North Korea however, poses a
challenge for both the US and China because of its stubborn ruling regime that has

25
Locke, G. 2014. Partnerships For Prosperity in the Asia-Pacific. In , 14. Shanghai:
Consulate General of the United States. http://shanghai.usembassy-china.org.cn/123112amb.html. (4
October 2016).
26
Ibid.
repeatedly refused to bow to international pressure in reforming its governance and
human right practices. Even decades of sanctions has not dented the North Korean
ruling regimes to resolve the situation, even if it means that their population will
suffer in the process.

The US realized that its negligence of this region has resulted in it giving away
a valuable pot of influence to other emerging powers such as China. More
significantly, China was gaining influence among the Asian states quickly with its
economic prowess and promises of assistance in developing infrastructure and
massive investments. Washington was too engrossed in carrying out its global war on
terror that it overlooked the importance of its main economic hotspot, Asia.
The US Secretary of State Hillary Clintons visit to Naypyidaw in 2011, and
the subsequent state visit by President Obama in 2012 marked to be the turning point
in the history of Myanmar because it was from this point that Washington declared its
willingness to close an eye to the past turbulent records of the military junta and
seek a path of reconciliation for the betterment of Myanmars economy and its people.
Myanmar held the key to a new and vast pool of natural resources, and also sat pretty
at the mouth of the most important and economically lucrative commercial waterway
in the world, the Straits of Malacca. In essence, Myanmar also was the key to the
Indian Ocean for Chinas commercial and naval vessels. To allow China in taking
total control of this would be considered as a strategic suicide for the US. This is
because China will be able to overcome its Malacca Straits Dilemma and monitor all
shipping from its point of operations in Myanmar.

To the question as to why North Korea does not garner the same interest from
US in comparison to Myanmar, the current regimes unwillingness to reform or
negotiate a peaceful end to its aggression appears to be the biggest stumbling block.
Both the US and China would like to see North Korea reforming, but they know that it
will not happen with the current regime. Thus, it is becoming a game of pushing the
responsibility to the other. Another issue that the US is well aware of is that
economically, North Korea does not possess much natural resources, or serving as a
potentially lucrative market to offer for investment. It has been a failed state for too
long and its hermit like presence puts a doubt on what it has to offer for further
growth. Even if there was a miraculous reform by Pyongyang, the cost of rebuilding
North Korea will be enormous and too costly for either the US or China to bear.

Scholars opined that the regimes themselves play an important part in


determining the mind-set of the population. While the Myanmar ruling military
regime came on hard against anti-government and pro-democracy movements prior to
2009, a shift in their way of looking at the future of the state and its then President
Thein Seins decision to move towards reform has definitely reaped the benefits for
now, and in the long run. Myanmars new acceptance of foreign assistance and
investment, and improvements in human rights and democratic reforms are certainly
major contributing factor towards the shift in US Foreign Policy towards being more
accommodating instead of continuing to be antagonistic.

North Koreas ruling regime however is more concerned about its own
regimes survival and fear of being opposed by its own people, has led to a system of
harsh governance and total disregard for human rights. Fear of the regimes harsh
crackdown and punishment of death has resulted in a timid and compliant population.
Externally, North Korea continues to be thorn in the side to its neighbours and
regional states. Its constant threats and display of aggression irks its neighbouring
nations and has drawn worldwide criticisms especially in its open development of
nuclear weapons. North Korea is commonly seen as a very risky investment to any
willing state, what more to a distrusting superpower such as the US.

In conclusion, it is understandable that the US expects Myanmar to be a more


lucrative and beneficial investment in political, economic and military engagements in
comparison to North Korea. Competition for influence in Myanmar between the US
and China is also a major factor for Washington to go all out in Myanmar. This is due
to the potential of gaining new grounds for investment, and to be able to include
Myanmar into the US pool of friendly ASEAN states, thus providing a platform for
regional collaboration through ASEAN in maintaining a presence and balance of
power. As far as North Korea is concerned, there is nothing much to gain from
engaging it at the moment except to keep Pyongyang in check with its military
activities and nuclear weapon development. This however, can be a very daunting
task, and a heavy responsibility. The US in the meantime will continue to shape its
foreign policy towards other states the way it deems best for its own agendas and
benefit, for the purpose of maintaining its influence globally and to remain as a
significant power in the global game of thrones.
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PRIMARY SOURCES
Interview with Tan Sri Razali Ismail, former Chairman of the UN General Assembly
and UN Special Envoy to Myanmar at his residence on 15 April 2016.

Interview with Senior Colonel Zhang Zhing Min PLA, Defence Attache of China to
Malaysia at his residence on 13 September 2016.

Email Interview with T.J Pempel, renowned author and scholar in the field of East
Asian Studies and Political Science.

Email Interview with Col Lee-In ROK Army, Director of Republic of Korea Army
Intelligence Division

FORUM
Prof Dr Tosh Minohara. 27 October 2016. Quo Vadis Pax Americana. Faculty of
Social Sciences and Humanities Meeting Room. Bangi: Universiti Kebangsaan
Malaysia.