To the junta, international relations are an unwanted side-effect of politics. Dumping critical attention on Myanmar's doorstep only seems to alarm its agoraphobic leaders.
So when the US shipped Senator Jim Webb over to the withdrawn Asian state last month, Myanmar’s ruling Generals uncomfortably donned a diplomatic front and released American war vet John Yettaw
As the dust settled behind the departing US convoy, rumours abounded across the democratic world. Perhaps Myanmar was ready to embark into the eerie world of international relations after all.
Not likely though.
Behavioural traits are hard to shake, so it's unlikely Myanmar has waved the flag for diplomacy. Instead, it looks like Myanmar has shut the door on the international community once again.
Myanmar has quietly rebuffed international attention and criticism long before the 1990s, with questions of legitimacy plaguing the dictatorship since their Machiavellian-esque seizure of Government back in 1947. When pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi
was denied lawful rule by the military in 1990 and consequently held under intermittent house arrest, the spotlight bore down brighter than ever.
Spectacle after spectacle
ensued, culminating in the maelstrom of events last month that saw Yettaw pardoned and Suu Kyi’s latest imprisonment commuted. Prima facie, it would appear that Myanmar had finally signalled a desire for inclusion in the international sphere.
Maybe so, but it looks more like a hazy Burmese smokescreen, fronted with the facade of a diplomatic government.
What filters through the veil is even more opaque. Growing market instability, commodity shortages and discontent from within is putting pressure on the junta to act sooner rather than later, yet it seems that Myanmar is still just as anxious to be left alone.
Senior General Than Shwe, leader of the ruling junta, has not indicated any want for a two-way dialogue with foreign states. At best, UN agencies have been granted some leeway to act on humanitarian missions within Myanmar; with stipulations, of course.
“We warmly welcome those who come to work with us in accord with the UN Charter,” Myanmar’s Minister for National Planning and Economic Development said recently. Then went on, “But I would like to stress that we cannot accept those who use the UN to do activities that will infringe on our sovereignty and be harmful to our solidarity.”
State security appears to be the central motivator for every reactive measure Myanmar has taken in the past two decades. So it should be expected, then, that the more geopolitically isolated Myanmar feels, the tighter the reigns will be towards state security.
Already security measures in Myanmar are rigorous. Burmese citizens fear heavy punishment if they are caught airing their discontent with the junta to foreign media.
According to a Burmese national who now lives in Australia, the extent of state control goes far beyond simply managing media content, “Their outgoing e-mails are screened, international phone calls are tapped. The locals are too scared to speak out ”.
It might just be a case of fear-mongering, but it’s working.
Despite the fact that Myanmar hasn't caused so much as a blip on Australia's foreign affairs agenda, the Australian government has officially supported these measures. Since 1991, Australia has held a strict arms embargo against Myanmar.
“Australia has strong sanctions against Burma, which it will continue to apply until we see genuine political change,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said recently, in response to Suu Kyi’s commuted sentence.
Suu Kyi’s 18 month sentence effectively bars her from participating in the timetabled election for 2010
. The latest constitutional changes, which reserve 25 seats in both houses of Burmese parliament for existing military personnel, will do little to remove the junta's influence within the new government. True political change in Myanmar may not be as feasible as some have hoped for.
Monica Schubert has degrees in Psychology and Arts and is currently completing her Masters degree in Strategic Public Relations at the University of Sydney. Monica has a familial Burmese background and is such keenly interested in the state of affairs within Myanmar.