Vital role for Myanmar in Asean's future

Regardless of the problems Myanmar faces on the road ahead, its political transformation thus far has been nothing short of miraculous ("Myanmar's stability crucial"; March 12).

Looking at the larger picture, there is quiet optimism about its future, considering what it went through in the past.

This bodes well for Asean. The grouping could, in time, operate more effectively than the European Union and be even more viable economically. Myanmar will have a vital role to play, if that is to come to fruition.

With its rich resource base and need to develop, it will be the catalyst for increased growth in the region.

Since 2011, Myanmar's domestic reforms and improved relations with the United States, EU, Japan and Asean have opened the door for that to happen.

Its foreign policy evolution and growing regional role are affecting not only the country's own economic growth, but also the strength and coherence, if not cohesion, of Asean.

Its strategic and political outlook also continues to evolve. Understanding the domestic and regional dynamics that shape Myanmar's foreign policy is, therefore, essential.

Myanmar's first term as chairman of Asean was a stressful one.

Yet, the assessments of Naypyitaw's leadership were largely positive, especially in preparation for the establishment of the Asean Economic Community last year, leading to the eventual setting up of a common market.

The disputes and tensions in the South China Sea made Myanmar's chairmanship an uneasy ride, with difficult decisions and management challenges to deal with - in particular, managing a delicate balance between safeguarding Asean solidarity and avoiding antagonising China.

In addition, domestic obstacles such as religious and communal violence and infrastructure deficiencies have presented significant challenges.

But it appears that the chairmanship experience laid a firm foundation for Myanmar's growing role within the regional organisation.

Continuing to be a part of it and working closely with its fellow members hold the key to the next phase in its progress, which should benefit all.

Manoraj Rajathurai