Burma, secluded land of elephants and temples, is shedding its diplomatic isolation to move to center stage in the latest round of Indochina diplomacy. China's Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang, is visiting Burma this week before going on to Thailand to discuss how to get an estimated 200,000 Vietnamese troops out of Cambodia.
Few qualified diplomats believe there is any real ground for successful talks. But Burma's emergence as a possible mediator places that country in a new position as active participant in the rivalries among Vietnam, China, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
This chapter in Burma's foreign policy began with last week's visit to Hanoi and Bangkok by Burmese Foreign Minister U Lay Maung. He carried to Thailand a call from Vietnam for talks to reduce tension in Southeast Asia. The Burmese official also said Vietnam requested talks be held in Rangoon, Burma.
Thailand will study Vietnam's proposal for talks, according to a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman. But a definitive Thai response is not expected until after the visit of Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang.
Burma, long a diplomatic recluse under Gen. U Ne Win, is emerging diplomatically at the same time it emerges economically. The country's rice production shows improvement, as does its overall economic performance. Willingness to take outside advice, such as that of the International Monetary Fund, partly explains the change.
Now General Ne Win's suggestion that Rangoon be the site of talks between Vietnam and ASEAN (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines) has moved Burma toward the Asian limelight.
but a major problem is simply that virtually all members of ASEAN, including Malaysia, which publicly favors an open door for Vietnam, no longer feel Hanoi can be taken at its word. In blunt terms, they believe Vietnam is a liar. Whether anything has changed remains to be seen.