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Surrounded by the incompetents and party hacks she’d appointed to senior positions, Suu Kyi’s government was a reluctant joint venture with the military, which the constitution allows to appoint the minister of defence, the minister of home affairs and the minister of border affairs. One of every four seats in the national legislature is reserved for the military.
It was in the lead-up to Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest in 2011 – the daughter of a hero of the Burmese national liberation struggle, Suu Kyi had been confined to her home for nearly 15 years – that a genuine flowering of democratic modernization unfolded in Myanmar.
Eager to break Myanmar’s cycle of debilitating violence, ethnic warfare and poverty, and desperate to convince the U.S. and its western allies to lift sanctions on the half-century-old military regime, the armed forces had introduced a dizzying array of reforms. Restrictions on labour unions were lifted. Media censorship was dramatically scaled back. Hundreds of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, were released.
The U.S. and its allies enjoyed crucial leverage back then, but the Obama administration, over the objections of senior State Department analysts and human rights groups, rushed ahead to rehabilitate Myanmar and end the country’s pariah status. In July, 2012 – only weeks after a gruesome pogrom drove 120,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh – the Obama White House lifted a tranche of sanctions on the regime. Later that year, after another orgy of anti-Rohingya violence, Obama paid a visit to Myanamar – the first American president to do so.
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In the months before the calamitous 2016 election of Republican Donald Trump, Obama lifted almost all of what remained of the U.S economic sanctions on Myanmar. Other western countries, Canada included, followed suit. Emboldened by their newfound impunity, Myanmar’s generals put Rakhine state to the torch, murdering thousands of Rohingyas. Suu Kyi was content to go along with the terror.
It wasn’t until October 2018 that the Senate and the House of Commons voted to revoke Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship, awarded to her in 2007.
It’s hard to see what good it would do now to simply reinstate the earlier economic sanctions on Myanmar, a move the Biden administration says it’s considering. Suu Kyi has pulled Myanmar into Beijing’s comforting orbit. China’s supreme leader, Xi Jinping, visited Suu Kyi in Myanmar a year ago. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was Suu Kyi’s first guest as Myanmar’s foreign minister, and Wang was back in Myanmar last month, pushing a massive infrastructure investment that would extend Beijing’s overland trade access to the Indian Ocean.
Thanks to China’s veto, the United Nations Security Council couldn’t even manage to say anything untoward about what has happened in Myanmar this week.
Myanmar’s generals say they’ll only hold total power for a year or so, and then perhaps Suu Kyi will be back. Unless something dramatic erupts in the political culture of Myanmar’s Burmese majority, that is how things will likely unfold, and in the meantime, it will be like Suu Kyi never left.
Terry Glavin is an author and journalist.
This content was originally published here.