« | Home | »

Mrs Clinton goes to Naypyidaw

Tags: |

Hillary Clinton’s visit to Burma, the first by such a senior US official in five decades, received front-page coverage in most American newspapers, and around the world. Images of the secretary of state meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi and sitting down with President Thein Sein made it look as if Clinton’s visit would prove a monumental event in US-Burma relations, and in Burma’s political trajectory.
 
Coverage of Clinton’s visit in Burma itself, however, was relatively muted. In the main state-run newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, it merited only a brief mention, while the concurrent visit from the president of Belarus and his wife was given broad coverage. At the airport in Naypyidaw Clinton was met by only a small welcome party, while the Belorussian delegation got a huge one. The generals have a long, deep friendship with Belarus, and still mistrust the US. But the disparity also highlights a point that few in the Clinton delegation would have admitted: Burma may indeed be changing, but the reforms have little to do with the US, its policies or its secretary of state.
 
Last year’s elections, which began the process of reform, were (accurately) condemned by the US and other Western nations for being far from free; it’s hard to believe that after them the Burmese government would suddenly start taking cues from the West. It’s also unlikely that the main reason the generals allowed the election, and the reforms that have come since, was in order to open up to the US and its allies, as some American officials have suggested. After all, the West ostracised the Burmese regime for two decades, with little effect. In the year to August 2011, according to the Diplomat, Burma was promised $20 billion in foreign direct investment: despite Western pressure, the generals were having little trouble finding money from Thailand, China, India and South Korea.

The impulse for change has, rather, come from within. As many Burmese analysts have told me, the generals who officially ‘retired’ after last November’s vote probably see gradual reform as the best way to ensure that they are never toppled by a popular revolt. (In a cable sent two years ago, and since published by WikiLeaks, the US embassy in Rangoon observed as much, but the point wasn’t emphasised during Clinton’s visit.) As things stand now, the Burmese military can control the pace and scope of change, and avoid going the way of Gaddafi or Ceauşescu. Though she has not been explicit about it since being released from house arrest last year, Aung San Suu Kyi has often spoken of the importance of forgiveness. By involving her intimately in the reforms, the generals have increased their chances not only for avoiding prosecution should there be an eventual transition to a democratic civilian government, but also for holding onto their assets.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • mideastzebra on Swedish-Israeli Tensions: Avigdor Liberman was not foreign minister November 2015.
    • lars hakanson on Exit Cameron: Europe will for good reason rejoice when the UK elects to leave. The country has over the years provided nothing but obstacles to European integration...
    • Michael Schuller on Immigration Scandals: The Home Office is keen to be seen to be acting tough on immigration, although I'm not sure that the wider project has anything to do with real number...
    • Geoff Roberts on What happened in Cologne?: The most surprising thing about the events in Cologne (and the most disturbing) is that some 600 incidents of theft, harrasment and rape were reported...
    • EmilyEmily on What happened in Cologne?: The author's argument is straightforward: Sexual violence is one beast; fears about migrants is another - let's not confuse the two. Alfalfa's poin...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement