Obama’s Myanmar visit
IT SEEMS LIKE Obama is getting into the habit of making history. After defying all the odds against him by getting reelected for a second term, he is all set to make his historic trip to Myanmar this month.
He will be the first American President to visit the Southeast Asian state; till now US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was the senior-most American official to visit the place in 2011. Obama’s tour to Myanmar will be part of a trip to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cambodia, where leaders from China, Japan and Russia will also be present.
The President’s trip to Myanmar reflects the importance that the US gives to improving relations with a state that has had the status of a pariah in the international community since decades. Myanmar’s recent efforts to democratize have been widely welcomed by the Western world, particularly the US. It has appointed a full ambassador to Myanmar and suspended some sanctions.
The most conspicuous political change that the Western powers are pleased about is the inclusion of the party led by the pro-democracy leader Aung San Syu Kii in the parliament. The party only has a marginal presence but this political overture has great significance, if contextualised historically. Considering that the military government responded to the student-led pro-democracy uprising in 1988 by a brutal massacre and had placed Syu Kii under house arrest on numerous occasions during the 1990s, Myanmar’s current state of politics indicates great progress.
While Obama is likely to show his appreciation for Myanmar’s political progress by visiting the country, he should not avoid the topic of the ongoing communal massacre in the Rakhine state. The Buddhist-Rohingya conflict has caused great devastation, displacement and loss of life, largely of members from the minority Rohingya community—a fact that Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has acknowledged himself. So for Obama to go on a state visit to Myanmar and simply talk about improving US-Myanmar relations will definitely invite criticism from human rights organisations. The world has its hope sets on the newly elected President, and he will surely disappoint them if he chooses the path of political correctness and circumspection.