Obama expanding diplomatic relations with Burma

posted at 10:00 am on November 18, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

For the first time in 50 years, the US will send its Secretary of State — our highest-ranking diplomat — to the nation of Burma, whose military junta had been shunned by Western nations since seizing power in 1962.  Hillary Clinton’s trip has the blessing of Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent most of the last two decades under house arrest for having the temerity to win a majority in the 1990 elections, a result wiped out by the junta.  The Washington Post reports that the move may help the US gain an edge on China in south Asia:

President Obama made the announcement Friday shortly after he began a series of meetings here with Southeast Asian leaders about regional security, including disaster relief. Obama was scheduled to participate in a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose chairmanship recently was awarded to Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Burma’s military rulers, who have held power since a 1962 coup, have taken a hard anti-democratic line, cracking down on opposition leaders including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been on house arrest for years.

But she was freed last year, and hundreds of other political prisoners have been set free since in a sign that Burma might be signaling an opening to the West as a hedge in its relationship with China.

The New York Times reports on the same trip, but uses the junta’s name for the country, Myanmar:

Daw Aung San Suu KyiMyanmar’s most prominent democracy campaigner, announced on Friday that she would rejoin the political system of the military-backed government that persecuted her for more than two decades.

In recent years, China has been one of Myanmar’s largest trade partners, lured by Myanmar’s bountiful natural resources. Myanmar, in turn, has relied on China for much-needed investment, partly to mitigate the effects of Western sanctions.

In September, Myanmar angered the Chinese government by suspending a Chinese-led project to build a hydroelectric dam in northern Myanmar. The move created a rare rift between the countries, which have been tightly allied over the past two decades.

The decision to send Mrs. Clinton came shortly after Myanmar took another step away from its diplomatic isolation on Thursday when its neighbors agreed to let the country, which had been run for decades by the military, take on the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2014.

Myanmar has long coveted the rotating chairmanship of the organization, known as Asean. The country renounced its turn in 2006 in the face of foreign pressure over human rights abuses.

Perhaps the first issue we can settle is what to call the country.  The junta changed it to Myanmar in 1989, but the State Department refuses to use it officially, in support of democracy activists there who reject the change.  The rapprochement between Kyi and the junta might settle the name issue eventually, but in the meantime, it’s probably best to continue using Burma.

Likewise, if Kyi supports the new American initiative and believes it will help speed change in Burma, then the Obama administration is doing the right thing in expanding diplomatic contact and recognition.  If we can pull Burma closer to the West and away from China, then it will have some strategic worth for us as well, and especially if we can break the link between Burma and North Korea.  That may well be the real strategic goal, and anything that further isolates Kim Jong-il will benefit the US.

However, we should tread carefully.  The junta may want to entrench itself by claiming legitimization with new contacts in the West, and that could mean an eventual backslide on political engagement and free opposition.  Kyi would be the best gauge of that, of course, and her ability to continue her activism should be the basis for our new efforts in Burma.

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Comments

Myanmar Shave signs are just like Burma Shave signs, but they don’t rhyme and you end up in prison at the end.

Attila (Pillage Idiot) on November 18, 2011 at 10:04 AM

Or is it Myanmar?

Defiantly it’s Burma.

It may be that the Burmese will be the first people freed by Obama.

Schadenfreude on November 18, 2011 at 10:04 AM

So… we’ve got the new SecDef pissing off India by declaring them a threat and yet we are extending diplomatic relations with Burma/Myanmar? REALLY?

teke184 on November 18, 2011 at 10:05 AM

Lest it be misunderstood, the Burmese will have freed themselves, at great risk…but the Fool of the World will still take credit, like he will soon for saving the stupid congressional committee from itself and from us.

Throw them all out next year, including Boehner, Pelosi and Obama!

Schadenfreude on November 18, 2011 at 10:06 AM

I miss the ol’ Myanmar-Shave road signs.

whatcat on November 18, 2011 at 10:07 AM

Myanmar Shave signs are just like Burma Shave signs, but they don’t rhyme and you end up in prison at the end.
Attila (Pillage Idiot) on November 18, 2011 at 10:04 AM

I hate it when somebody beats me to a bad pun.

whatcat on November 18, 2011 at 10:08 AM

Perhaps Hillary can convince the junta to stop flooding SE Asia with the ya ba.

JohnGalt23 on November 18, 2011 at 10:09 AM

Give ‘em a taste of Western goodies to get ‘em hooked. Then extract concessions, friendly-like. Slip a wedge between Burma & the Chicoms/Norks. Screw the commies.

OhioCoastie on November 18, 2011 at 10:12 AM

Does it surprise anyone that the NYT would accept and use the term put in place by anti-democratic forces?

Red Cloud on November 18, 2011 at 10:13 AM

I hate it when somebody beats me to a bad pun.

whatcat on November 18, 2011 at 10:08 AM

A real Burma Shave slogan:

His cheek
Was rough
His chick vamoosed
And now she won’t
Come home to roost
Burma-Shave

Fallon on November 18, 2011 at 10:17 AM

I know alot of Burmese refugees personally, and this is bad news for them. The people that disagree with the govt are still persecuted, Christians are still being persecuted, and those that don’t go along with the govt plans, do not receive the best medical care. This is a big mistake, but obama is looking for a legacy

ConservativePartyNow on November 18, 2011 at 10:18 AM

Or is it Myanmar?

“It’ll always be Burma to me”

–J. Peterman

UltimateBob on November 18, 2011 at 10:19 AM

Hey let’s send the one person who could beat Obama in a primary challenge to one of the most dangerous countries in the world!

John Deaux on November 18, 2011 at 10:21 AM

U.S. diplomacy
Under Obama’s care
Is a lot of talk
That leads nowhere
Burma-Shave

radjah shelduck on November 18, 2011 at 10:24 AM

If you want to piss off the current leaders of the fascist junta, call it “Burma”. If you want to make the junta happy, call it Myanmar.

I hope this clears that up for you.

moochy on November 18, 2011 at 10:25 AM

What about Cyprus? Let’s send Shrillary there, too.

SouthernGent on November 18, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Repressive regime? Check.
Dictator? Check.
Time to expand diplomatic relations.

Vashta.Nerada on November 18, 2011 at 10:29 AM

Burma, also known as Myanmar.

My Axis & Allies boardgames says it’s “French Indo-China” so that’s my final answer.

rihar on November 18, 2011 at 10:30 AM

You don’t start off sending the #1 diplomat. You start off with undersecretaries and such, get some things settled and then reward with SoS visit.

rbj on November 18, 2011 at 10:31 AM

OT:The Soverign State of Alaska to do it their own way. Let’s just see how obama likes that?

ConservativePartyNow on November 18, 2011 at 10:31 AM

Or is it Myanmar?

“It’ll always be Burma to me”

–J. Peterman

UltimateBob on November 18, 2011 at 10:19 AM

Me too, Mr. Peterman, ’cause I’ve always liked the sound of it. Worked with a gentleman from Burma. A very kind person. “Myanmar” holds no fascination and is difficult to pronounce, and no one knows where it is.

betsyz on November 18, 2011 at 10:35 AM

Dear Hillary. You’re about 20 years too late. Burma is entirely a China property now. Done. Enjoy the guided tours. Suu Kyi knows you are not there for her. She is not for rent as a campaign symbol. She will very politely tell you to go away.

Kenosha Kid on November 18, 2011 at 10:36 AM

Maybe it’s because they don’t know him very well and still may have some admiration for Great Leader.Wonder how long that will last.

jeanie on November 18, 2011 at 10:38 AM

The reset button

Needs a push

If this thing fails

We’ll just blame Bush

Burma-Shave

pain train on November 18, 2011 at 10:39 AM

My daughter in law is from Burma. She was born and raised in Rangoon. She calls it Burma, so do I.

Oldnuke on November 18, 2011 at 11:01 AM

Hillary reminds me of Bride of Chucky in that pic.

aquaviva on November 18, 2011 at 11:18 AM

It sounds like I’m in the distinct minority, but I don’t see any reason to continue using “Burma” when referring to the country. Unless you’re Burmese and are making a point, it seems a bit childish. It is, after all, the colonial name for the land. Nobody still says “Rhodesia” out of spite, do they? If you go for a visit, your visa will say “Myanmar” and your plane ticket will be to “Yangon”. Seems like case closed to me.

I spent 3 weeks backpacking around Myanmar in 2002. I’ve been to pretty much every country in East/Southeast Asia (with the exception of NoKo) and nowhere did I encounter fear as ubiquitous as in Myanmar. I was trekking with a guide one day and we were in the woods when he raised the subject of the government. I kid you not, the guy reflexively looked over both shoulders before engaging in the conversation. Even in 2002, the internet was completely inaccessible. Maybe one or two of the better hotels in Yangon or Mandalay had a creaky version, but I never once came across it.

Beautiful place, though. And it was cool to see signs using miles and feet (elevation), too.

KGB on November 18, 2011 at 11:58 AM

In all fairness, there is no Islamic extremism ready to take power, if we start bombing the crap out of this dictatorship.

Sorry Burmese, but that’s the way it rolls.

MNHawk on November 18, 2011 at 12:00 PM

BURMA!

Why did you say “Burma?”

I panicked.

——————
Monty Python “The Death of Mary Queen of Scots”

GoodBoy on November 18, 2011 at 12:04 PM

Never met a totalitarian state he didn’t suck up to.

mojo on November 18, 2011 at 12:05 PM

Why are we putting troops in Australia?

theperfecteconomist on November 18, 2011 at 12:46 PM

My Axis & Allies boardgames says it’s “French Indo-China” so that’s my final answer.

rihar on November 18, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Best boardgame ever. So it can’t be wrong. :)

Scrappy on November 18, 2011 at 1:07 PM

yay Hillary!

Romney 12
Hillary 16

ginaswo on November 18, 2011 at 1:53 PM

sounds like I’m in the distinct minority, but I don’t see any reason to continue using “Burma” when referring to the country. Unless you’re Burmese and are making a point, it seems a bit childish. It is, after all, the colonial name for the land. Nobody still says “Rhodesia” out of spite, do they? If you go for a visit, your visa will say “Myanmar” and your plane ticket will be to “Yangon”. Seems like case closed to me.

Simple -Rhodesia isn’t a name imposed upon the nation by a groups of despots who weren’t invited. The power structur3e says it’s Myanmar and the people who have been subjected to their power involiuntarily say Burma.
Can a nation that is(was?)the world’s role model for democracy do anything but support the people by calling it Burma?

By the way, I too heard first hand people afraid to mention their government out loud and they actually trembled. They were visitors from Communist Poland-before the wall fell. This is exactly what we are heading toward with our feel good liberalism – the candy from the dirty old socialists controlling the Democratic party.
Our GOP is mostly worried about money, while it’s our freedom the enemy is after -the economy is just one weapon -destroying the culture has already been acheived..

Don L on November 18, 2011 at 2:35 PM

Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Do they have Obamavilles there?

BobMbx on November 18, 2011 at 3:29 PM

Tread lightly… the ruling junta is NOT a bunch of nice guys…

Khun Joe on November 18, 2011 at 4:57 PM