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Book review: Where China Meets India:

Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia

By Siddhartha Deb / The Guardian, LONDON

Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia.
A country that sits between two aspiring superpowers has some very complicated choices
to make. Yet Myanmar, whose entire upper half is wedged between northeastern India
and southwestern China, seems to have consistently made the wrong choices through
much of the 20th century and all of the 21st. It emerged as a modern nation in 1948, its
decolonization from Britain a messy and traumatic affair that included the mysterious
assassination, a year before independence, of some of its most important leaders. Its
contentious democratic system, marked by hostilities between nationalists and
communists, and between the Buddhist, Burmese-speaking majority known as Burmans
and the largely Christian hill tribes, soon broke down into full-fledged civil war.
Still, none of this marked it out as an unusual nation at the time. Its vast neighbors India
and China had, and were indeed still undergoing, their own crises, which included civil
war and large-scale massacres. Yet when the nationalist military took over in Myanmar in
1962, the result was something like an army in possession of a state. And although the
names of governing councils have been changed, the generals in charge moved around
and even the national economic path switched from the Burmese way to socialism to
capitalism, there has been a military junta in power for over half a century, its intentions
mostly inscrutable to the West. The favorite adjective for this junta in the Western media,

based only partially on the fact that George Orwell served as an imperial policeman in
Myanmar in the 1920s, is Orwellian.
Where China meets India is an attempt to offer a nuanced portrait of Myanmar, especially
of the paradox where a seemingly static country, subject to economic sanctions from
Europe and the US, is also poised between two of the most dynamic, and rapacious,
powers in the world. Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia, the books subtitle reads,
and its author, Thant Myint-U, makes clear that this seeming backwater is a place where
some kind of fundamental reorientation is taking place, with a colorful combination of
ethnic militias, drug lords, sex workers, businessmen and migrant populations floating
back and forth across a gray frontier zone.
Traveling to Lashio, in the northeastern corner of Myanmar, Thant writes about the
quasi-independent territory carved out by the United Wa State Army, former
headhunters, former anti-junta guerrillas, and now drug lords and allies of the junta: The
dirt roads become Chinese highways. And much of the Wa zone is on the Chinese
electricity grid, and even its Internet and mobile phone grid. BlackBerrys dont work in
Rangoon but they do in the Wa area ... Its a stunning reversal in Burmas geography.
What had been remote is now closer to the new center. What were muddy mountain
hamlets are now more modern than Rangoon.
When Thant crosses the border into China, he finds shopping malls, amusement parks
and heritage tourism, all evidence of the growing consumerism that is one of the factors
driving Chinas alliance with the Myanmar junta. In the absence of competition from the
West, China can not only push the global market into what was once the frontier, it can
also lay a claim to Myanmars considerable natural resources. It could be the beginning,
Thant writes, of a new Great Game in which India and China take on the roles once
occupied by British India and tsarist Russia, with each aspiring superpower wary about
the other, both eager for access to the vast reserves of natural gas off the Myanmar coast,
and with China especially anxious to secure access to the Bay of Bengal and create an
alternative shipping route for the vast quantities of fuel required by its growth engine.

{ mo }ni s m }  {i y } m y 
Saturday, 10 September 2011
Written by The Voice Weekly

}i } ni y m 
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1 of 2


Where China Meets India

The Asian Age

Dayal The Statesman

Tim Johnston Financial Time

Havard Cambridge

The Indian Express

Open up to Burma

10/28/2011 7:41 PM

2 of 2

River of the lost footsteps

Where China Meets India




10/28/2011 7:41 PM



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Thant Myint-U From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thant Myint-U (Burmese: } m [a mj ]; born 31 January 1966) is an historian
and the author two bestselling and critically acclaimed books, The River of Lost Footsteps: A
Personal History of Burma and Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads
of Asia (Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Faber and Faber 2011).
He was born in New York City to Burmese parents and is the grandson of former UN
Secretary-General U Thant.[5] He was educated at Harvard, the Paul H. Nitze School of
Advanced International Studies and the University of Cambridge. He received his PhD in
history from Cambridge University in 1996.
From 1994-1999 he was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he taught Asian and
British imperial history.
Thant Myint-U has also served in three UN peacekeeping operations. He first worked with the
UN from 1992-3, as a Human Rights Officer in the UN Transitional Authority for Cambodia
in Phnom Penh. In 1994 he was the Chief Spokesman for the UN Protection Force in the
former Yugoslavia, based in Sarajevo, and in 1996 was a Political Advisor in the Office of the
UN's Special Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In 2000 he joined the UN Secretariat in New York, working first in the Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and then in the United Nations Department of Political
Affairs, becoming in 2004 Chief of the Policy Planning Unit in that department.[ During this
time he was also a member of the secretariat of the Secretary-General's Panel on Threats,
Challenges and Change (High Level Threat Panel) which produced "A More Secure World:
Our Shared Responsibility". In late 2005 and early 2006 he was briefly a Senior Officer in the
Executive Office of the Secretary-General coordinating the establishment of the new
Peacebuilding Commission, Peacebuilding Support Office, and the Mediation Support Unit,
and other related reforms.
In addition to The River of Lost Footsteps and Where China Meets India: Burma and the New
Crossroads of Asia, he is also the author of The Making of Modern Burma (Cambridge
University Press 2000) and The UN Secretariat: A Brief History (Lynne Rienner 2007).[ He
has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the LA Times the International
Herald Tribune, The London Review of Books, the New Statesman, the Far Eastern Economic
Review, Time magazine[13] and The Times Literary Supplement.
He has also held visiting fellowships at Harvard University, the International Peace Institute
in New York, and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, was for many years a
Research Associate of the Cambridge Centre for History and Economics, and is a Research
Associate of the Cambridge Centre for South Asian Studies.