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Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia Hardcover – 18 Aug 2011
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'Confident and enthralling discussion.' --John Keay, Literary Review
'Thant writes compellingly about how both India and China have changed their attitudes towards the military junta ... [he is] an idiosyncratic cultural historian. ... the book possesses a heartfelt and welcome optimism, giving voice to a desire for connections that exceeds all notions of foreign policy, geopolitics or business and becomes, instead, about people encountering each other in all their glorious difference.' --Siddhartha Deb, Guardian
Thant Myint-U ... is in a perfect position to comment on the past, present and future of a country whose fate in intertwined with its boisterous neighbours, and he does so in this fascinating book with skill and rare insight.' --Oxford Times
Where China Meets India is Thant Myint-U's vivid, searching, and timely book about the strategic centrality of Burma, where Asia's two rising giant powers - China and India - appear to be vying for supremacy.See all Product description
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Thant Myint U is Burmese, and speaks some Chinese and some Tibetan too, so his travels through that wild, uncharted area between Burma, China and India are full of the people he meets and the conversations he has, while he tries to work out what's going on and how the rise of China and India as economic superpowers affects and, is affected by, the lands he's travelling in.
What will happen when there's motorway and high speed rail all the way from Beijing through Kunming to Rangoon, and perhaps from Delhi too? Will the west have any relevance at all? Will Burma become a province of China, or will it manage to use India as a balance?
I'm not sure that Thant Myint U really answers these questions, and perhaps its just too early to tell, but he gives a fascinating travelogue of the area, its historic links to China and India, and a light insight into the geopolitics around it.
Worth buying in the kindle edition, though perhaps not quite at the hardback price.
The author is a native of Burma and a historian, he travelled around Myanmar's bordering countries 20 years ago and returns to see how things are shaping up for his homeland and the region in general for the 21st century. The style reminds me of Bill Bryson(perhaps not the wit but it is a more serious subject), interweaving local history, characters, and the weird experiences from any travel, and each chapter ends leading into the next town/subject.
His experience in china is what you might expect, fast-changing, high-growth, modern buildings but the bordering Yunan province is relatively poor compared with china's east coast mega cities. India's Burma border areas are very poor, under-developed and increasingly dangerous. Burma is in the middle. There is excellent background to why all is this is true and coverage of the other countries in the region, mostly Thailand but also Tibet, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia.
Interestingly, there is a an Epilogue AND a Afterword, showing how fast things are changing in the world of Myanmar politics.
Part One of the book looks at the historical background, sweeping quickly over ancient times and focusing very much on the European colonial period and its impact on the diversity of people and networks in the region. We tend to forget how today's populations are often the outcome of peculiar theories on the part of colonial administrators and the cold, commercial imperatives of colonial enterprises. It is sobering to see how much of a rich traffic in people and ideas was lost with the advent of modern borders.
The middle section of the book takes us to the borderlands with China and shows how towns and communities there are dealing with the size and dominance of Chinese production and marketing. Chinese ascendancy in many parts of northern and north-western Myanmar resembles patterns in northern Laos and northern Thailand, if more advanced. Myint-U's account is full of interesting details but tends towards the descriptive and, at times, nostalgic. I wanted to learn more about the coping strategies of these border peoples and how they manipulate the new cultural divide. There are some hints, but I was left feeling hungry.
The third section of the book moves to the other border - with India. Whereas the Chinese province of Yunnan on the eastern side of Myanmar is strongly integrated into the Chinese state, the north-east of India is fractured by separatism, poor communications and a diversity of cultures that the Indian state has failed to manage well. The geography of the border here is such that interaction appears far weaker than on the Chinese side. There is some discussion of Bangladesh, but given the cross-border tensions regarding Muslim communities in Myanmar and the influence of these conflicts on international relations well down into southern Thailand and Malaysia, more analysis of the links with Bangladesh would have been welcome.
Myanmar's undoubted potential, squandered over decades by incompetent military rulers, has long been a topic of academic and journalistic discussion. Myint-U adds more in-depth and personal observations to this body of work, but there are no simple answers from his side. Given his earlier work, I was expecting some exposition of the principles on which Myanmar might negotiate with the two giants that squeeze it from either side like two fat suitors with roaming hands in a darkened cinema. But in the end the book raises more questions than it answers. Perhaps that was the author's intent.
The recent froth and bubble over elections and a `new dawn for democracy' in Myanmar will ensure that international focus on the country continues to grow. The US and its minions are likely to increase their presence and we will see aid programmes, foreign investment and tourism all increase. This will please other countries in ASEAN who have long been embarrassed by Myanmar's behaviour, despite their public support. But will they be so pleased when Myanmar begins to prosper, enriching its own people rather than exporting them as cheap illegal labour to its ASEAN neighbours?
There will be many repercussions from the changes under way in Myanmar. Thant Myint-U's works are an invaluable asset in understanding this country, and I would recommend reading The River of Lost Footsteps in addition to this newer book in order to get a well-rounded picture.
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