News / Asia

    Obama's Historic Burma Speech Mostly Well Received

    U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Rangoon University’s Convocation Hall in Rangoon, Burma, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012.
    U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Rangoon University’s Convocation Hall in Rangoon, Burma, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012.
    Daniel Schearf
    RANGOON – President Barack Obama's speech at Burma's Rangoon University has been mostly welcomed as inspirational and supportive of political reforms, though some criticized his comments on the country's western Rakhine state as inaccurate.
     
    In a speech praised by many of Burma's influential figures for supporting the country's fledgling but dramatic democratic reforms, President Obama congratulated Burma for moving to civilian rule, releasing hundreds of political prisoners and loosening its grip on the media.
     
    Obama, who called the United States a partner in Burma's journey to reform, noted that, prisoners of conscience remain jailed within its borders, poverty remains a challenge and ethnic-rebel insurgencies remain unresolved.
     
    "It is very encourag[ing] for our people," said Nge Nge Aye Maung, chairwoman of Myanmar Disabled Women's Affairs Association, describing the experience of hearing the speech as brilliant and significant. "I think maybe this old Burma to transfer to a new Burma."
     
    The president also urged dignity for the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority in Burma's western Rakhine state. Many in Burma consider the Rohingya – a group stripped of citizenship by a 1982 law and often referenced by official media in derogatory terms – illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
     
    Clashes this year between Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists left at least 170 people dead and more than 100,000 homeless, most of them Muslims.

    Story continues below
    • US President Barack Obama, right, waves as he embraces Myanmar democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence in Rangoon, Burma, Nov. 19, 2012.
    • US President Barack Obama watches as Aung San Suu Kyi center greets Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Rangoon, Burma, Nov 19, 2012.
    • US President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with Burma's President Thein Sein in Rangoon, Burma, Nov 19, 2012.
    • US President Barack Obama is presented with flowers as he and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, arrive at Rangoon International Airport in Burma, Nov 19, 2012.
    • Crowd cheers as US President Barack Obama arrives at opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's home in Rangoon, Burma, Nov 19, 2012.
    • A man holds a sign reading: "Help to bring peace" as people line the street to see U.S. President Barack Obama in Burma, Nov. 19, 2012.
    • US President Barack Obama speaks to reporters as he tours Shwedagon Pagoda with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Rangoon, Burma, Nov 19, 2012.
    • U.S. President Barack Obama tours the Shwedagon Pagoda with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Rangoon, Burma, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012.
    Obama said embracing everyone within Burma's borders is not a weakness, but a strength.
     
    "Because he said that to use the diversity to develop a country – it is really encouraging," said Thin Zar Khin Myo Win, a Muslim activist for interfaith peace who said he was moved by President Obama's comments on the value of freedom of speech and worship, and the need to embrace diversity.
     
    "This is very, very good points for our people," he said.
     
    Rakhine Nationalities Development Party spokesperson Oo Hla Saw described Obama's comments on Rakhine state as inaccurate.
     
    "His comments are very far away from the reality of what is happening in Rakhine – historically, economically, politically," he said. "So we are very disappointed for his comments."
     
    Burma political analyst Thant Myint-U, an American-born author, scholar and former United Nations diplomat, said despite the sensitivity of the Rohingya issue, it was expected that Obama would address it.
     
    “I think it is good that he placed it within the larger context of this country needing to see diversity as a strength, rather than as a weakness," he said. "And I think it was good in a way that he tried to link it back also to the struggles and problems in the history of American democracy as well.”
     
    Ko Ko Gyi, a former political prisoner who helped lead the 1988 student democracy uprising, seemed to descibe the speech as both encouraging and sobering.
     
    "Only the citizens of the country should find the solution to the conflict," he said. "But it is important to get help and understanding on Burma's reforms from the president of the world's most powerful nation, as well as the international community."
     
    The president will depart Rangoon this afternoon to attend a dinner at the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

    Watch the full speech:
     

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Joe from: USA
    November 20, 2012 2:16 AM
    Well fortunately the United States elected a smart President and can multi task and is on top of every crisis. I'm still waiting for Bush to answer all the lies and thousands of deaths both American and Iraqis in the Iraq War. But never mind all that hate noise. I'm proud to see any American president visit a country that has been living under a brutal dictatorship but is on its way to being a democracy. I love seeing foreign people wavy our flags. We are a great country even with the haters that cant except a lose. get over it and come up with ideas and facts that can be debated. We need it.

    by: Mahope Makhan
    November 20, 2012 1:59 AM
    We welcome President Obama but his comments are very far away from the reality of what is happening in Rakhine – historically, economically, politically. So we are very disappointed for Obama's comments. Our Myanmar people requested that US government and OIC REFRAIN from bias one side (favour for Rohingya) while working for the affairs of Rakhine State. OIC MISINFORM to the world with Rohingyas' fake photos and videos. Will you please give illegal Bengali Rohingyas as citizens of Islam countries or US?? Almost Rohingyas are illegal and criminal persons.

    President Obama should abstain from BIASED side of illegal Bengali Rohingyas.

    May God bless you.

    by: Ron Chakma from: Bangladesh
    November 20, 2012 12:26 AM
    Obama's concern for human rights in Myanmar is appreciable. But he should have steered clear of the conflict in Rakhine sate. The conflict is not between majority and minority as many western media like us to believe, it's between indigenous Rakhines and Bengali immigrants. It's an internal affair and Myanmar people are defending their territory from infiltrators.

    No nation has the right to impose a 'minority' on other. It's only Myanmar people who have the right to decide who are their fellow citizens. If Obama is concerned about peace and harmony in the region he should warn Bangladesh for ethnic cleansing the Buddhists and Hindus in Chittagong Hill Tracts and encouraging its people to infiltrate the neigboring countries.

    by: grassroot from: USA
    November 19, 2012 12:47 PM
    Instead of being on top of the crisis in the Middle East,
    He's globe trotting and back into looking presidential on
    the other side of the world. Completely in character.

    by: MahaYangon from: US
    November 19, 2012 12:12 PM
    VOA, it is Myanmar, not Burma. You still live in the 90s. Why do we call Myanmar, Myanmar.

    by: TallanRuddell from: Denver
    November 19, 2012 12:03 PM
    Well, that is wonderful' If Obama is now through playing hug-hug and kissy- kissy on all of the S.E. Asian female rulers, he needs to come back to the US and explain why he chose to LIE to the nation about the death of our Americans in Benghazi,
    BE careful Asia. Obama is a prolific LIAR.
    You can't trust much of anything he says to you.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora