Obama sending Clinton to repressive Myanmar
BALI, Indonesia (AP) — Seizing an opportunity for historic progress in repressive Myanmar, President Barack Obama is dispatching Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the long-isolated nation next month in an attempt to accelerate fledgling reforms.
The move is the most dramatic sign yet of an evolving relationship between the United States and Myanmar, also known as Burma, which has suffered under brutal military rule for decades. Obama said Friday there had been “flickers of progress” since new civilian leadership took power in March.
Responding to signs of reform, Myanmar’s main opposition party, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, decided on Friday to register again for future elections after boycotting last year’s voting.
“If Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform, it can forge a new relationship with the United States of America,” Obama said as he announced Clinton’s trip while on a diplomatic mission to southeast Asia.
Clinton will be the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Myanmar in more than 50 years.
In exploring a breakthrough engagement with Myanmar, Obama first sought assurances of support from Suu Kyi. She spent 15 years under house arrest by the nation’s former military dictators but is now in talks with the civilian government about reforming the country.
A U.S. opening with Myanmar would also contribute to Obama’s goals of rebalancing power in the region, as Burma’s military leaders for long had close ties to China.
Beijing has poured billions of dollars of investment into Myanmar to operate mines, extract timber and build oil and gas pipelines. China has also been a staunch supporter of the country’s politically isolated government and is Myanmar’s second-biggest trading partner after Thailand.
Administration officials stressed that the new engagement with Myanmar was not about China. They said the Obama administration consulted with China about the move and said they expected China to be supportive. They argued that China wants to see a stable Burma on its borders, so that it doesn’t risk problems with refugees or other results of political instability.