Hillary Clinton; HARD CHOICES: Book Analysis. Chapter 6. BURMA: THE LADY AND THE GENERALS. Freeing Aung San Suu Kyi and Rapprochement With Burma Myanmar(Burma).


Aung Sun Suu Kyi And Than Sein: Not So Cozy.

 aung sung suu kyi and Than Sein; Not Quite So Cozy.

Aung Sun Suu Kyi and Barack Obama: Where Are We going With This?
Aung Sun Suu Kyi and Barack Obama: Where Are We going With This?

Aung Sun Suu Kyi and Barack Obama: Where Are We going With This?


Myanmar, which Hillary chooses to call Burma in this chapter, is a former British colony that lies between two giant countries: China and India. After winning its freedom from Britain after World War II Burma became a military dictatorship. Anug Sun Suu Kyi’s father, a general, was a leader in gaining Burma’s independence after the fall of the Japanese. He was a political leader in the post war era and participated with others in setting up a parliamentary system in Burma. Aung Sun was assassinated in 1947 and a period of turmoil followed until a military dictatorship took power in 1962.

In 1990 democratic elections were held but the results were  overruled by the dictatorship and Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter  of General Aung San, was subjected to house arrest and her party, The National League for Democracy, which she led and had won 392 seats in the parliament out of 489 was banned.

This was the case when Hillary took office as Secretary Of State.

Part of the pivot policy was to bring Burma out of a military dictatorship under the influence of China and establish it as a member of the family of democratic nations. Previously the United States had severed diplomatic ties with Burma and leveled economic sanctions against the dictatorship. Burma remained isolated from the world and became poverty stricken because of that isolation.

Mitch McConnell the Senate Minority Leader had a strong interest in Burma and had led the move for economic sanctions against the country  after democratic reforms were crushed by the military dictatorship. He had also maintained communications with the dissidents including Suu Kyi.

The  military regime had announced new elections to take place in 2010 but few believed they would matter.

U.S. economic sanctions had only made the regime withdraw from the World while impoverishing the country. The Chinese had exploited this void and had expanded its political and economic influence over the country.

On her first trip to Asia the President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudahoyono had indicted he had been in touch with the ruling generals in Burma and that they were looking for ways to establish better relations with the U.S.

To that end Stephen Blake a senior diplomat was dispatched to meet with Than Shwe a senior general in the new city the regime had built in the jungle, Nai Pri Taw. Blake came away convinced that the regime was interested in a dialogue and that some of the leadership was dissatisfied with the isolation from the rest of the World. However he was not optimistic any dramatic developments would happen soon.

In august 2009 Senator Jim Webb met with Than Shwe in Nay Pri Taw. He had three goals, bring an American John Yettaw  home. He had tried to swim across a lake to Suu Kyi’s  house  and was in custody, end Suu Kyi’s house arrest and to meet with Suu Kyi. He got two of his requests he met with Suu Kyi and took John Yettaw home with him.

In September at the U.N Hillary announced the Administration’s objectives before the U.S. could have better relations with Burma. It wanted to see democratic reforms, the end to human rights abuses, the release of political prisoners including Suu Kyi and a serious dialogue with ethnic and minority groups. To this end she would use both engagement and sanctions in the pursuit of these goals.

Little progress was made immediately. In the 2010 elections there was no democratic landslide, the military party still remained in control. However the generals released Suu kyi from house arrest and Than Shwe decided to retire to be replaced by another general Than Sein who had previously been Prime Minister. Than Sein conducted business in civilian clothes and led a civilian government at least in outward appearances. In 2011 he was sworn in and he invited Suu Kyi to dine at his house. He had extended a hand to a person the regime had seen as an enemy. Seeing Than Sein was making gestures towards progress on the issues most repugnant to the U.S, Hillary was able  to appoint Derek Mitchell as Special Representative to Burma a position created by Congress and signed into law by President Bush but never filled.

China had persuaded the generals to allow them to build the Myitsone Dam on the upper Irrawaddy River which was vital to millions of Burmese downstream. Suu Kyi and her party as well as millions of citizens opposed the dam built mainly to supply power to Chinese Provinces while damaging economic life along this major river.

Than Sein addressed parliament and said that the government had the responsibility to respond to the wishes of the people and that therefore construction on the Mysitone Dam would be halted. In addition the government released hundreds of political prisoners and it legalized the formation of labor unions. Further it eased censorship restrictions and eased suppression of ethnic and minorities. It also further released more political prisoners and began discussions with the International Monetary Fund concerning economic reforms. 

In November 2011 Hillary went to Burma and met with Than Sein and other government officials. Her impression was that he was interested in making reforms and allowing the country to become more democratic. Later in Rangoon she met face to face with Suu Kyi for the first time who was optimistic but cautious about the future the same way Hillary felt.

In April Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament along with 40 members of her party. Also in 2012 Suu Kyi travelled to the U.S. for 17 days. In Burma Than Sein continued to make reforms like allowing independent newspapers. In response to these developments the U.S. began easing sanctions.

Burma also chaired the ASEAN conference in 2012 . China and the U.S.  attended

In Novwember 2012 President Obama visited Burma and met with Than Sein and discussed more democratic reforms and later  addressed the students at Yangon Univeristy. He also met with Suu Kyi.

Burma’s move out of isolation and adoption of democratic reforms  are a dramatic result of the Pivot to Asia policy.

The elections scheduled for 2015 are a crucial test for Burma. Will it move forward or retreat. Also Suu Kyi , the leader of the forces for reform is nearly 70 what will happen if she is no longer able to lead?



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