Mon Nov 19, 2012, 03:05 PM
bigtree (64,088 posts)
President Obama Embraces Burma's Deliberate Turn Toward Democracy
Just a few years ago, the main gate to Burma’s once-venerable Rangoon University (or Yangon University, if you prefer the government’s lexicon) was chained shut, secured by a big, rusting padlock. Across town, any Western journalist—or tourist, for that matter—walking by the home of Aung San Suu Kyi drew suspicious stares from the soldiers guarding the compound, within which languished the Lady, under house arrest for much of the last two decades.
But in a shockingly swift turnaround, the president of the United States—with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in tow—swept into the university Monday and delivered a stirring call for greater democracy in a nation that began the process of shedding its pariah status a scant 18 months ago. And President Obama did so after leaving Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence, where he lauded the icon for her “unbreakable courage and determination.” Obama’s historic visit was the latest step in Washington’s Asia pivot, a strategy predicated on the recognition that the U.S. must link its foreign policy more closely to the continent—seen as the future fount of economic and political power. Not coincidentally, this pivot positions America to blunt the influence of China, which has been steadily raising its profile—and military presence—in the region.
Speaking at a university where Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, the legendary patriot Aung San, studied and where students once protested against British rule, Obama made it clear that his trip—along with the easing of sanctions and a fresh pledge of $170 million in aid—was a considered reward for the government’s moves toward democracy. And that more carrots would be awarded for further progress. He also suggested, however, that any recidivism would be met with a yanking of support. The president is giving the regime an “incomplete” mark rather than a passing grade, calling the government’s effort a “democracy project.” Nor was he prepared to invest the government with 100 percent legitimacy, insisting on visiting the leading city of Rangoon rather than Naypyidaw, the new interior city the generals arbitrarily established as the capital in 2005. “People were glad that he didn’t go to Naypyidaw and instead met President Thein Sein in Rangoon,” said Aung Zaw.
Obama may want to pivot toward Asia, but he is not naive enough to think that the freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi and some political prisoners and implementation of some reforms amount to far-reaching and permanent change. The regime, however, seems determined to stay the course. Indeed, the generals’ wooing of Aung San Suu Kyi was a canny move, and she appears to be now invested in a joint process with them. “She and Thein Sein are in this together, and they both know that,” said Hans Vriens.
Obama, who has been criticized for going too far and moving too quickly to support Burma, is trying to herd the regime in the right direction, and prevent it from straying . . .
read more: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/19/obama-does-delicate-dance-on-historic-visit-to-burma.html
text of President Obama’s remarks: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/11/19/remarks-president-obama-university-yangon
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