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The Reluctant Democrats

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
January 18, 2013
National Post


Representing the world's largest democracy, which has sewn together a nation of a billion people, as well as countless ethnic groups, castes and languages, Indian officials long have boasted of their nation's deep and founding commitment to democracy. And as China and India increasingly have become global competitors, Delhi has only emphasized its rhetorical commitment to democracy more.

But to Myo, a Burmese activist, democratic India doesn't look much different from authoritarian China. Worse, maybe. After working in Burma, underground, for many years, Myo fled the country, in the mid-2000s, to work in exile. "I'd heard that, before, India had been very welcoming to Burmese activists, particularly after 1988 [a period of anti-government rioting in Burma], so I expected it would still be," he said.

But Myo was wrong. By the 2000s, Delhi had reversed its Burma policy 180 degrees. Rather than criticizing the Burmese junta, it now engaged the generals under a new policy it called "Look East," hosting Senior General Than Shwe on a state visit during which, with no obvious irony, he visited the monument of famed activist Mahatma Gandhi. India ignored international resolutions condemning the Burmese regime's massive human rights abuses, and launched a policy to boost Indian investment in Burma, particularly in the valuable petroleum industry. Delhi began providing arms to Burma.

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