Obama Engages with Burma

Obama Engages with Burma

The announcement that US President Barack Obama plans to meet with the Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein in Singapore next Sunday is a dramatic affirmation of Washington's new policy of engaging the junta after 15 years of attempting unsuccessfully to use isolation to force a change in its dismal human rights record.*

The policy gap between the US and Burma/Myanmar governments is acute, as it has hurt the interest of both sides. It has resulted in intensified Chinese penetration in Burma, affecting regional security and Sino-Indian relations. It has solidified both Burmese fear and suspicion of US actions and objectives, and disdain and vituperation toward the country by both the US administration and Congress The current trip might help to explore whether the policy gap might be narrowed, and if so, how and when.

The trip by Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs and Scot Marciel, Ambassador to ASEAN, is in a sense a reconnaissance mission on narrowing the gap of hostility of two decades since the imposition of martial law in 1988. It follows the trip there of Senator Jim Webb (d. Virginia) in August. Both visits are products of serious and extensive US reviews of policy toward Burma/Myanmar. Both trips are welcome.

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