The Myanmar Times
Thursday, 24 April 2014
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

US to bring accolades, political risks

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a press conference at the National League for Democracy Party headquarters in Yangon on July 3. Photo: AFPDaw Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a press conference at the National League for Democracy Party headquarters in Yangon on July 3. Photo: AFP

YANGON – Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be feted by US President Barack Obama and given a top honour in her first visit in two decades to the United States, which has been an ardent supporter of her democracy struggle.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was to leave Myanmar on September 16, is destined for a red carpet welcome during her first visit to the US since she began her campaign for democracy – marked by years of house arrest – under the military government in 1988.

The Nobel laureate, who was elected to parliament this year in a dramatic sign of the country’s reforms, will travel to Washington to meet Obama, whose government has been at the forefront of Western re-engagement with the long-time military dominated country.

“This will be a high-profile trip for Aung San Suu Kyi, who has significant star power in the US,” said independent Myanmar analyst Richard Horsey, adding that it would be a chance to “showcase her international support”.

“But there are also political risks involved.”

Unlike Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip to Europe this year – where she received a rapturous welcome û her visit will coincide with that of President U Thein Sein, who is due in the US later in the month to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

“There is a risk that she will overshadow this significant first US visit by Thein Sein – who has not yet really gotten the international recognition that he deserves for the remarkable reform process that he has put in place,” Mr Horsey said.

It would be “particularly unhelpful” if the US president opted to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi but not the Myanmar leader, “which unfortunately looks to be the case”, he said.

“A positive relationship between Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein is critical to the success of the reform process going forward.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the top honour bestowed by the US Congress, which she obtained in May 2008 when the prospect of her leaving Myanmar looked remote.

Her near three-week visit will also see her hold talks at the United Nations, give speeches in Washington and New York and meet members of the Myanmar diaspora in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

She is also likely to be quizzed on the changes that have swept through her country since military rule was replaced by a quasi-civilian government last year.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle has been vital in steering international opinion on Myanmar, and her decisions to enter mainstream politics and to call for sanctions to be eased are seen as pivotal in beginning the dismantling of the punitive measures.

“If she boldly calls for something she has so many supporters there now they would try to meet her expectations, but that is not her style,” said Sean Turnell, a Myanmar economic expert at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Following sweeping moves to lift or suspend sanctions by other Western nations this year, the US in July gave the green light to US companies to invest in Myanmar, although a ban on all imports from the country remains.

But Mr Turnell said internal issues have now taken precedence in reviving the country’s moribund economy – notably a foreign investment law, awaiting final approval, that has generated heated debate.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has transformed from long-term prisoner to politician in just two years and international focus is now shifting to policy as the country prepares for 2015 elections that could see her party swept to power.

The 67-year-old has prioritised calls for the rule of law but has produced little in the way of concrete strategy so far, dismaying some observers by remaining largely mute on recent deadly communal violence in western Myanmar, in particular the plight of stateless Rohingya Muslims in the region.

Jim Della-Giacoma, project director for Southeast Asia at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank, said that he hoped Obama would press both Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and U Thein Sein on the issue.

“There will be plenty to observe there and learn from the trip about the importance of equality, citizenship and opportunity and how providing this for all citizens benefits a democratic country,” he said. – AFP