Without fanfare, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has come to Myanmar.
Her visit was carefully choregraphed as a result of president Obama’s meeting with Burmese authorities in Indonesia during a meeting of Asian Pacific states.
A secretary of state has not visited Myanmar or Burma since John Foster Dulles in 1956.
Clinton met with president Thine Sein at Naypyidaw, the new Burmese capital. According to reports, she handed him a letter from Obama and discussed means to open full relations with a Myanmar where the generals have taken to wearing civilian cloth. As a result, reforms are in the air to widen avenues to a civil society, as well as opening a window to a wider world within, it has to be stressed, from a Birman standpoint.
The US is badly informed about what’s happening in Myanmar. It, however, does want to seize an opportunity to twist the Chinese tiger’s tail. China has never boycotted Myanmar; it has ‘rectified borders’ with Burma a half century ago, thereby establishing friendly relations. More recently, Beijing’s dynamic economy has moved in swiftly overwhelming Myanmar’s industries. And the Chinese have acted arrogantly and crudely prompting Naypyidaw to cancel a dam project which China sorely needs.
Although Thein Sein’s motives remain unclear, one thing is certain, he’s looking to wiggle out from under China’s heavy hand. His desire is welcome by the US that is looking to mate China in the Asia Pacific region. Which brings us back to Clinton’s presence in Myanmar. In a way, it’s a mutal Christmas gift these exploratory talks.
Another concern of Obama is Myanmar’s relations with North Korea. Before flying in to the Birman capitol, Clinton had talks with her South Korean allies in Seoul. Isolating North Korea is top priority for these two countries. It is doubtful that Myanmar will distance itself from the DPRK, the more especially since things on the ground there have evolved without the guiding hand of America’s bienfaisance. If the US’ track record is any signpost, Washington will soon prove as heavy handed as the Chinese in dealing with Birman sensibilities on the matter of North Korea.
For the moment, prospects look bright, but has US diplomacy improved since Foster Dulles visit in 1956?