Thant Myint-U, the Burmese historian, recently held meetings and conferences in Italy. He spoke with il manifesto at the House of Literature in Rome.
Burma’s new course will be influenced from the outside, particularly from the Chinese. How will the new government manage its relationship with the No. 2 world power?
China has a massive role in the economy of Myanmar, officially a few billion dollars, but probably we are talking about a lot more money, even $10 billion. More than you would think. Today, China is no longer the major investor it once was; Japan now invests more. China had strong diplomatic relations with the previous military government which provided many security structures, especially because of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations. Today diplomatic relations with the West are improving. Obama and Abe have been invited [to the country], and now China is anxious about it. Beijing is asking how will Myanmar adjust its diplomatic ambitions, whether it will continue to move away from Beijing and open to Western countries.
Aung San Suu Kyi has said she wants to have good relations with China, but what that means is unknown. Her party is popular, and there’s a great emphasis in their program to economic reforms and environmental protection. These are very important, and therefore it would be very difficult to move in one “Chinese” direction. But there will be a dialogue with Beijing. China has made clear its economic plan and its willingness to count on Myanmar, but I believe the goals of the two countries are different, although they can intersect.