“Persuading Pariahs: Myanmar’s Strategic Decision to Pursue Reform and Opening”, by Jonathan T. Chow and Leif-Eric Easley, was the #1 most downloaded research article from Pacific Affairs in 2016!
Myanmar’s liberalizing reforms since late 2010 have effectively shed the country’s decades-long “pariah state” status. This article evaluates competing explanations for why Myanmar’s leaders made the strategic decision to pursue reform and opening. We examine whether the strategic decision was motivated by fears of sudden regime change, by socialization into the norms of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), or by the geopolitics of overreliance on China. Drawing on newly available materials and recent field interviews in Myanmar, we demonstrate how difficult it is for international actors to persuade a pariah state through sanctions or engagement, given the pariah regime’s intense focus on maintaining power. However, reliance on a more powerful neighbour can reach a point where costs to national autonomy become unacceptable, motivating reforms for the sake of economic and diplomatic diversification.
Keywords: Myanmar/Burma, China, ASEAN, sanctions, pariah states,
authoritarian transitions, Aung San Suu Kyi