NEW DELHI – Isolated and impoverished by decades of international sanctions, Myanmar (Burma) has emerged in recent months as both a beacon of hope and a potential new Asian flashpoint. With Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi freed from two decades of house arrest to campaign vigorously for a seat in parliament in the special election to be held on April 1, Burma’s commitment to rejoining the international community appears to be genuine. But this opening has other consequences, most importantly setting the stage for a new “great game” of strategic competition.
No one should be surprised that Burma is a locus of interest for great powers. After all, it is larger than France and with a similar population size. In his recent book Monsoon, Robert Kaplan notes that in the Middle Ages three kingdoms lay between Thailand (then called Siam) and India. One was Myanmar, which means “that which is central.” Centuries later, Burma remains central, not only in matters of Asian security, but also for the country’s vast and still mostly untapped natural wealth.