Pariah status for violating international norms over decades increased Myanmar and North Korea’s dependence on China. Myanmar’s post-2010 reforms sought to reduce international sanctions and diversify diplomatic relations. North Korea pursued a diplomatic offensive after the 2018 Winter Olympics, but only after declaring itself a nuclear state. Why, despite both states’ politically unsustainable dependence on China, did Myanmar and North Korea pursue different strategies for renegotiating reliance? Unlike the Kim regime, Myanmar’s junta could step back from power while protecting its interests. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was a credible signaler of reforms, providing Western governments political cover to reduce sanctions. Myanmar used liberalizing reforms to address internal threats, whereas North Korea utilizes external threats for regime legitimacy. The theoretical underpinnings and empirical trajectories of these distinctions–as well as Myanmar’s backsliding on human rights–explain why reducing reliance on China may prove more difficult than shedding pariah status.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the University of Macau under Grant MYRG2017-00165-FSS. We gratefully acknowledge the research assistance of Romina Abuan, Cheang I Cheng, Guo Xinran, Li Jianeng, Li Kun, Li Wei, Wu Szu Yi, and Yang Diya. We also gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of interviewees in Myanmar, South Korea, and China. We also thank the anonymous peer reviewers for helpful comments. This article builds upon research previously produced for the Asan Institute for Policy Studies: Chow, J. T., & Easley, L.-E. (2012). No Hope Without Change: Myanmar?s Reforms and Lessons for North Korea. Asan Issue Brief No. 36.
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- China foreign relations
- Myanmar politics
- North Korea nuclear weapons
- authoritarian regime transitions
- economic and security reliance
- pariah states