While I'll be among the first to disagree with the vast majority of U.S. President Barack Obama's policies and actions while in office, there have indeed been a few bright spots, whether they were his doing or as a result of Congressional backlash. The recent visit by Obama to Myanmar definitely fits into the "bright spot" category.
Myanmar, more commonly known in the West by its former name, Burma, has been a pariah in "democratic" society for generations. After decades of military rule and top-down central control, Burma has appeared to languish under the effect of Western sanctions on trade and diplomacy.
However, with Obama's visit, and as a result of "democratic reforms" in the country, this attitude may be changing.
For many years, Myanmar has been denied the capital investments of the West through U.S. and other nations' sanctions. While this has contributed to Myanmar's third-world status, it has also resulted in China and other Asian countries investing heavily in Burma. As with most sanctions and trade laws, this has hurt both the target of the sanctions as well as the nations deploying the restrictions on free trade.
With GDP clocking in at a tiny US $82.68 billion in 2011, Burma is certainly no economic powerhouse. However, the indochinese country is projected to grow at 5.5% annually, which is a very healthy rate. If Western sanctions are diminished or removed entirely, and if Burma reforms its isolationist laws against foreign investment, Myanmar could see an incredible amount of capital investment.
Other countries that Burma shares the peninsula with, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, have benefited from both Asian and Western investments. For instance, Thailand hosts manufacturing facilities that produce immense quantities of computer hard drives, while Vietnam has become a significant exporter of commodities ranging from coffee to rice to textiles.
Unquestionably, Western investment will improve the quality of life of the impoverished people of Burma. The future will tell whether the U.S. government will do the wise thing – both for Myanmar and for the U.S. – and relax sanctions, or if the U.S. government will continue its isolationist foreign policy toward the tiny, yet resource-rich Asian nation.
This piece originally appeared at JamesLStreet.com