Goals for Secretary Clinton's visit to Myanmar
Hillary Clinton's upcoming visit to Myanmar will be the first trip to the country by a serving U.S. Secretary of State in 50 years.
November 29th, 2011
09:21 PM ET

Goals for Secretary Clinton's visit to Myanmar

Editor's Note: Joshua Kurlantzick is a fellow for Southeast Asia at CFR and author of Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World. He blogs at Asia Unbound.

By Joshua Kurlantzick, CFR.org

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will begin a visit to Myanmar [historically known as Burma], the first trip to the country by such a high-level American official in some fifty years. In a previous blog post I outlined several indicators to focus on in examining how quickly and successfully Myanmar's reforms are moving.

Although the United States is not the most important player in Myanmar, compared to regional powers like China and India, the Burmese government clearly is hoping for warmer relations with the United States, for a variety of reasons – strategic balance, a real desire for reform, greater investment, and others. In judging the Secretary of State’s trip, it’s important to consider whether she has achieved the following aims – aims that, if successful, would demonstrate significant American influence in the country:

1. Ensuring all political prisoners are released. The Burmese government released one batch of prisoners earlier in the year, but according to human rights groups Myanmar still has at least 1,500 political prisoners in jail. When American officials previously pushed the Burmese to release all political prisoners, the Burmese leaders essentially waved them off. In recent days, there have been repeated rumors of a new prisoner release; if Clinton were able to secure the release of all political prisoners, rather than just another piecemeal freeing, that would be a triumph.

2. Obtaining regular interaction with senior members of the military. The U.S. Special Representative and Policy Coordinator to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell, met with the current commander-in-chief of the Burmese armed forces, Lt. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. Still, overall, most of the meetings with the Burmese leadership have taken place with civilian ministers, leaving the United States (and other outside actors) with too little exchange with the top members of the military, who are critical to resolving insurgencies in Myanmar's ethnic minority areas and to reducing rights abuses by the military in the field.

3. Gaining access to the entire country. As I mentioned in my previous post, despite Myanmar's rapid reforms, it remains unclear how much this era of glasnost is spreading outside of Burman-dominated parts of the country. Conflict continues to rage in ethnic minority areas, and the Kachin regions have been particularly hard hit. Gaining complete access to the country for U.S. diplomats, the U.N., and other observers would be a significant victory for Clinton.

4. Finding out much more about Myanmar's relationship with North Korea. The details of the Burmese military’s burgeoning relationship with North Korea remain very murky; on the eve of Clinton’s visit, the office of Senator Richard Lugar released a statement claiming that Myanmar has been seeking nuclear assistance from Pyongyang for at least five years. If Clinton could convince the Burmese leadership to make clear and transparent statements about their relationship with North Korea, and to allow observers to visit suspicious facilities alleged to have links to missile and nuclear programs, that might be the biggest win of all.

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Topics: Foreign Policy • Myanmar

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    Myanmar is a resources-rich country, strategically important to China, due to its easier access to the Indian Ocean than over the massifs and through Pakistan. Apart from precious stones and minerals, natural gas is also found there. Historically the country was a crossroad for neighbours with expansionistic ambitions and European colonists. Occasionally the Karen people, an ethnic minority in Myanmar and Thailand made headlines in their uprisings against the central government in Rangoon. Myanmar's relationship with the U.S. was marred by the trade embargo the U.S. imposed in 1991, due to human rights violations there. Lately the situation gets better and Hilary Clinton's visit might be just the first step to normalisation of the diplomatic relations.

    November 30, 2011 at 7:04 am | Reply
    • John

      Hillary, get a face lift. You can be a star in ZOMBIE movie.

      December 2, 2011 at 9:21 am | Reply
    • John

      VON, the situation will get better if US want to make it better. Apparently, this is not the case, Look back at the history, ROMANS, Britain GONE. China will be the next super power SOON.

      December 2, 2011 at 9:24 am | Reply
  2. Johnny Ho

    Hillary Clinton is a fantastic foreign diplomat who deserves the Nobel Peace prize. I know that she has a special interest in freeing Burma from an atrociously wiocked Military Junta. And I think this time her personal dream, to ensure freedom permeates the Burmese society, would be a success, before she leaves the international political scene next year.

    Burma is ripe for change, and only the United States has the gut and gumption to make sure change come sooner to this once richest nation in South East Asia.

    November 30, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Reply
  3. Stanley

    This country was never [historically known as Burma]. "Myanmar" is the name of the country and "Burma" is an adjective meaning "Burmese", such as Burmese language or Burmese people.

    Also calling the former capital from "Rangoon" to "Yangon" is simply the correction of pronunciation, like "Peking" to "Beijing". The British colonial government was just too proud to learn the language of the land they ruled.

    December 1, 2011 at 1:50 am | Reply
  4. dr saad- alberta- canada

    i wish she will be the president , so we can get back to finsh iran , hizboallah and the shiia thugs in the middleast and syria......................the world is unbalanced now cause iranians and the shiia thugs are making it difficult to do good, look what they did to UK embassy......we msut all stand strong aganist the evil iranians and iraqi shiia and the syrian governemnt and get red of them before it is too late.

    December 1, 2011 at 9:37 am | Reply
    • johnny

      Even if she is the USA President there is precious little she can do to change things – because Congress is run by the Republicans. And US Congress is filled with old mindsetted Republicans, unfortunately, who will oppose anything – good or bad policies of Pres Obama.

      December 1, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Reply

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