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A New Look Towards Myanmar

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Myanmar. We look at that nation’s steps toward democracy and rising strategic importance.

An exterior view shows Myanmar's Parliament buildings where the second regular session is being held in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. Parliament approved Thursday a law guaranteeing the right to protest, one of a series of reforms under the new elected government. (AP)

An exterior view shows Myanmar's Parliament buildings where the second regular session is being held in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. Parliament approved Thursday a law guaranteeing the right to protest, one of a series of reforms under the new elected government. (AP)

Hillary Clinton heads into Burma – Myanmar – tomorrow, the first US Secretary of State to make the visit in more than half a century. That’s a long time.

Burma was the dreamland of the British Empire. Rangoon. Mandalay. Its wilds have for ages stood between what are now two booming powers: India and China.

Now China would like to see Myanmar as its California – a second coast of pipelines, highways, and access to the sea. A break in Myanmar’s military dictatorship has given the US a chance to say hello.

This hour, On Point: Southeast Asia’s new strategic crossroads – Myanmar.

-Tom Ashbrook


Andrew Quinn, foreign policy correspondent for Reuters.

Thant Myint-U, author of Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia.

David Steinberg, professor of foreign service at Georgetown University and author of Modern China-Myanmar Relations: Dilemmas of Mutual Dependence.

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post “The Obama administration is taking a foreign policy gamble by sending Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on a historic trip to the isolated Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar this week.”

Foreign Policy “After 20 years without a parliament and democratic process, its new leaders are now showing a surprising impatience with the status quo and are changing the way this country is ruled. Western policymakers should sit up and take notice of these reforms — and, most importantly, respond.”

Foreign Affairs “By contrast, the boom in China’s Yunnan Province has boosted Myanmar’s economy and brought the country closer to China, which covets a pathway to the Bay of Bengal, an important shipping hub.”


We played two selections from “Mahagita: Harp and Vocal Music of Burma” from Smithsonian Folkways on today’s show:

“Lonely in the Forest”

“A Huntsman Enchanted”

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  • Terry Tree Tree

    Is the new government headed by the lady political prisoner that won that office so many years ago, Ahn San Sue Shee?   Something like that name.   I apologize if I got it wrong, but it’s been a while since she has been mentioned.  Must be SOME woman, for the Army to have to hold her prisoner on an island!!

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard


      I couldn’t spell her name, either — it’s Aung San Suu Kyi


      She is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, among other things.


      • Terry Tree Tree

        Thanks!!  I hoped to stimulate someone else to reveal more, that I forgot about her.  REMARKABLE LADY, especially from that area. 
           The Dowager Empress of China, took on the British, French, and  U.S., when they were subjugating the Chinese with opium, for cheap labor, with the Boxer Rebellion. 

  • JustSayin

    Military rule, atrocities, ethnic cleansing… Sounds like Myanmar wants to be a new US “ally” like Pakistan. Just wait for it.. They will get billions of US taxpayer money from Congress. Hillary will bring the cash for political support of the current regime in trade for political power and resource claims.

    In the good ole days, corporations would bribe governments directly, but I guess all that military reclamation for resources in Iraq and  Afghanistan show that when a US envoy walks in the door, a corporate directed military is just behind her.  

    With the US economy in ruin, perhaps are we going to extend our military adventures into this region again. 

    Myanmar Minorities Suffer Abuses Despite Reforms:

    • Terry Tree Tree

      U.S. Marine Corps General Smedley Butler tells of corporate take-over of other countries by use of U.S. millitary.  He also relates the U.S. millitary being used to subdue what constitutes slave labor revolts to U.S. corporations.


    Just what I need on a cold and overcast Tuesday, a story about an up and coming Asian nation.  Anyone else want a bite of my lunch?  How about you, Vietnam?


      BTW, they should have stuck with “Burma”.  More marketable and seemingly western friendly.

      • Anonymous

        I still say Burma. 

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          It’s the same word, actually–just like Bombay is Mumbai.  Ms and Bs in the native language sound almost alike, so the British couldn’t hear the difference.

          • Anonymous

             I thought that Bombay came from the Portuguese for good bay and then was renamed by Shiv Sena after a Hindu godess.

          • Modavations

            I don’t cause the PC police have a tantrum

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68

      Don’t under estimate the political climate in Asia. The American government has focus it’s eyes on the Arab nations for awhile now.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Vietnam ALREADY has a bite of your lunch.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68

    The Tamil Tigers invented human suicide bombers the group that influenced the majority of terrorist groups all over the world especially Al-Qaeda.

    The defeat the Tigers was not the end of the Tamil People. I hope Hillary Clinton will push the Myanmar government to have more Tamil political leaders to work for the Myanmar government.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68

      The Tamil people are the minorities of Myanmar. The oppress people of that country. They need help and ONLY Hillary Clinton will help them not you or me.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68

        my Bad I was talking about Sri-Lanka. Myanmar a totally different country.

        • http://onpoint.wbur.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen

          Actually, there apparently is a sizable community of Tamils in Burma who came over during the time of the British Empire! Check this out: http://www.sangam.org/2008/06/Tamils_Myanmar.php?uid=2949

          • Modavations

            Tamil Nadu is southern India.If there are tamils in Burma they’re tourists

    • Modavations

      Tamils are from Ceylon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1816544 Dan Trindade

    The strategy of engagement with formerly (and in some cases still) repressive regimes in Southeast Asia by the United States is a direct response to China’s increasing assertiveness in the region at large. Everything from Secretary Clinton’s visit to Myanmar, high level engagement with Vietnam, war games with South Korea, Marines in Australia, right down to Obama’s declaration that America is a Pacific nation are intended to hem in China and prevent it from expanding its influence. Though I do believe that such a policy of containment is the right choice for the Obama administration as well as any future administration, I worry that such bold faced action may be seen as far more provocative than intended. China has risen from colonial whipping boy to global economic powerhouse faster than any nation in history and as the reigning super power, the United States must take care not to provoke an increasingly restless colossus without being prepared for the consequences.

    • mary elizabeth.

      Thank you for such a thoughtful and enlightening post.

    • Pffefer

      Assertiveness by the Chinese? As long as China refuses to take orders from Washington the Americans will continue to whine about China’s “assertive attitude”. As long as China doesn’t align its interests closely to those of the US, anything it does is considered “disruptive” by the US. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1816544 Dan Trindade

        I never said anything about disruptive. I used the word assertive to refer to China making use of its growing political and economic power in the region, just as America asserted its growing power in the Spanish-American War. Do you disagree with my view of the situation or do you just disagree with my word choice?

        • Pffefer


          Thanks for your response. These days everyone in the West is describing China as “assertive”. I just felt that the word “assertiveness” is only reserved for countries like China, aka “America’s enemies” and is never used to describe the US and its allies. How can China be considered “assertive” when it is just a regional powerhouse seeking to expand influence on its turf when the US is a sprawling global superpower and hegemon, whose presence is everywhere, trying to retain its supremacy, not be considered “assertive”? Blatant double standard in my opinion.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1816544 Dan Trindade


            I agree that the word assertive is over used in Western media, particularly in reference to China. Though in Chinese media, American policy and engagement in Asia is discussed in a similar tone. It is a double standard and I do believe that viewpoint should be discouraged or at least used with proper frame of reference, but the sword cuts both ways. America is a global super power and it will, as it always has, do all within its power to maintain that status. China’s rise is something to be respected not feared but I do not believe American policy in Asia will change nor will it step away and “allow” China free reign. Just as China will do all within its power to expand its influence and check America’s in its backyard and around the world for that matter. It is an interesting time in international relations and I believe the political and economic brinkmanship between China and the US will define the 21st century in Asia if not the world.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Assertiveness, or agressiveness? 
          Assertiveness should not be a problem, and is usually encouraged in children.
          Agressiveness, and agressive assertiveness, can be, and usually IS a problem.

  • Rex

    “I’m in Burma…You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me.”

    -J. Peterman


      Seinfeld references are always welcome.

  • Pffefer

    The US will cooperate with and even support a dictatorship as long as they are willing to support American geopolitical interests. The only difference between “good” dictators and “bad” dictators is that the former “are with us” and the latter “are against us”. There is no such thing as the US championing for freedom, democracy, human rights etc., it is just a charade. The Bahraini and Saudi government are no better than the Iranian or the Chinese government.

    America’s design in Myanmar has only one goal, that is to crack Myanmar’s political and economic dependence on China, check China’s influence and hopefully turn Myanmar around to help the American effort to encircle and contain China. It is all part of a grand compaign that the Obama administration launched recently to drive the Chinese into the corner. From the American perspective China is the source of all ills and problems the US faces, China is the new evil empire that the US is work so hard to bring down.

  • Ssbuckley60

    My husband and I lived in Thailand, working with refugees from Burma. I worked with an umbrella organization of various ethnic minorities’ organizations as well as the majority Burmans’ organizations.  If there was one thing I learned from my year working with the Burmese is the ongoing civil war between the ethnic minorities and the majority Burmans is not an aside in this conversation. It is vital not just for moral reasons but for practical reasons. Ethnic minorities take up a large part of the geographical space in Burma and the energy infrastructure; many of those projects of dams and pipelines were built from forced labor of those ethnic minorities. There has been a systemic policy of the Burmese government on some of these ethnic minorities to destroy the cultures and communities of the ethnic minorities, through things as simple as banning the written language of one ethnic minority to burning down villages where suspected rebels lived, and putting the residents in concentration camps. The systemic oppression and fear and silence of the Burmese against the Burman majority is at least a part of this conversation through the most famous victim, Aung San Suu Kyi. The ethnic minorities and the long history of animosity between them and the Burmans is just as important and vital to any progress.

  • AC

    you’ve given me some things to think about, i’m not too aware of whats going on around Burma..

  • Ssbuckley60

    http://ktimes.org/en/ and http://www.irrawaddy.org/ are good websites to start learning!

  • Cecelia

    For those interested in the history of American involvement in Burma, one extremely dramatic chapter was our efforts in WWII to build and maintain a supply route from India to China, to help defeat the Japanese occupation. This was known as the Burma or Ledo Road. Two Pulitzer Prize winning historians wrote about our involvement with China during WWII and the construction of this critical supply route through Burma in riveting books: Barbara Tuchman’s “Stillwell and the American Experience in China”, and Theodore White’s “Thunder Out of China”. 

    For more historical background, the film, “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” from 1957, which won 7 Oscars, portrayed the construction of the Burma railroad by Allied prisoners of war at the hands of the Japanese. 

  • Modavations

    Quick shift for me today.I’m observing the Barney Frank Holiday.You ants can have a nice peaceful day stroking antennas.The reason Myanmar is opening up is because the generals have discovered Free Enterprise

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Your holiday with Barney Frank will probably be the stroking.  You’re the one that proclaims going ‘limp-wristed’, at the mention of several men’s name.  Enjoy your holiday.

      • Modavations

        Where’s the love bro.It’s a national holiday

        • Terry Tree Tree

          Elsewhere, I don’t get limp-wristed.

        • Terry Tree Tree

          You and Barney enjoy your holiday together!  Here’s to the happy couple!

  • Modavations

    Burma has been known as a treaure trove since Adam and Eve.In the Arabian Nights there is a story of giant eagles, that would swoop in with chunks of meat in their talons and return with rubies stuck on the meat.

  • Modavations

    I’ve been to the border three times.Burma produces, without doubt the finest of all the colored gems.They have the best Rubies,Sapphires,Jade(only cherised by orientals and me),Tourmailines,Spinel,amber and even natural pearls.Rubies and sapphires are hard to buy.Color nuance is everyhing.The best ruby is about $20,000 per carat.The best Sapphire is about $2,000 a carat.A 10 x 14 mm cabachon Jade(green like the best emerald)is about 80,000USD per stone.Diamonds blow all stones away.A red diamond can go for 1 million per carat.Ruby and Sapphire(same stone,Corundum,just different color)are created 20 miles below the surface.A daimond is created up to 600 miles down and is blown out the tops of volcanoes.

  • Modavations

    What you do is fly into Chiang Mai(big modern town of 3million peeps,) and cab it up the Chiang Rai.This is a tourist town and it’s righteous(yes brother Brett,I do partake).I stay in the same hotel and alwys get their best suite.It costs me(last time I went was 6 yrs.ago)about 1800 baht($40.00USD).From there we cab it over to the border town of Mae Sai and see what’s up.Too many army guys for my liking.We tell the guys our hotel in Chiang Rai and they show us the stuff in the hotel.This takes care of the security concerns and I have electricity for my microscope.Synthetics are a problem as they have exactly the same properties as the natural.I have to actually look at the inclusions inside the stone to tell real from synthetic.Of course if the stone is internally clean you’re screwed.I have blown some big deals because I didn’t buy and the stone turned out to be real.If I can wholesale a stone in NYC for $1000.00,I’ll pay $100.00 for it.

  • Modavations

    Chiang Rai is where the Karin women live.They’re the ones with the hoops and elongated necks.The real gem town is Mogok.That’s 200 miles north of Mandalay.i don’t know any caucasions that ever went into Burma.Orientals only and they charge $100.00 per day.The real gem border town is up in China.It’s called Kentung.You have to be a wild man to go up there.I actually know an English chick that’s been.This lady would kick Indiana Jones as-.I’ve been chasing her for years,but she won’t hear of it.As I’m not of the “hand wringer”persuasion,the pursuit continues!!!!After all ,eventually every dog has there day.

  • Modavations

    A couple of years ago they passed the Lantos Laws(?) and banned the sale of all Burmese goods.Same thing as blood diamonds.I laugh,because they just smuggle the stones into legit countries,mix the stones in with the local stones and get the paper work.It’s a joke,but it makes liberals feel important.Buy the way ,in the 1500′s-early 1600′s they used to do the same thing with Columbian Emeralds.Back then ,India was the source of Emeralds and they spread rumors that the S.American goods were inferior.The Portugeses would just smuggle the Columbian stuff into Goa and sell them as Indian Emeralds.Liberals are funny folk

    • Terry Tree Tree

      ALL Laise-Faire capitalists willfully break the law?  Explans why you try to excuse the Banksters, and other criminals!

      • Modavations

        That’s banker please.I now understand you’re male,but good god, you’ve fooled me for 6 months.I am astounded you are a male.Straighten up kid

        • Terry Tree Tree

          Your kind of ‘straight’, NO THANKS!  I have morals, that I don’t see in ‘born again Christians’, priests, and GREEDY rich!  I won’t stoop that low.


      So let’s not even try to do the right thing because our attempt may fail.  Conservative existence is dark and cynical, at best.

      • Modavations

        Cory W., you have a guilt complex and your “do goodisms” are a type of penance.These people are so poor,they are shot when found mining.These acts(Kimberley Process and Lantos Act),only make it tougher.They make you feel good,but are lethal to the people you think you’re helping

    • nj

      Consistently unencumbered by fact, Moda-troll blurts: “banned the sale of all Burmese goods.”



      An Act
      To impose sanctions on officials of the State Peace and Development Council in
      Burma, to amend the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 to exempt
      humanitarian assistance from United States sanctions on Burma, to prohibit
      the importation of gemstones from Burma, or that originate in Burma, to promote
      a coordinated international effort to restore civilian democratic rule to Burma,
      and for other purposes.

      • Modavations

        When his wife asked for the divorce ,she claimed NJ lived in a state of perpetual misery,kicked the dog and was worse of a nitpicker then a woman.What,pretel did you think I was talking about?

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Don’t burden him with facts, he might find other laws that he broke, for his own profit!   He shows those wonderful ‘conservative’ values that he propounds, doesn’t he?

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/XCD5VL3JJZUFFKIE2RLHTF4R5E alex

    Thant Myint-U’s book “Where China Meets India” is a great travelogue through the new India-Burma-China borderlands, and includes lots of fascinating stories from ancient and recent history, including the history of American involvement, from WW2 and the Burma Road to the CIA’s secret arming of Chinese Nationalists, to the Opium Wars of the 1970s, and recent efforts under Clinton and Bush at ‘regime change’.  Good background to today’s developments.

  • Tomasz Jędryszek

    crisis can by only like impact generated and I suggest having more easy, and keep possibility. I freeze all possibility and impulses to meet, please stop and  make no extend crisis in nuclear brange. IEAE must freeze unsafety. Please look for this. I unrecommend intinidate Iran side , because better way is effort to negotiatet and having solution. We  shouldn’t extend crisis for own side.

    • Tader

      well said

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