News / Asia

Obama: Burma's Journey an Example for Asia, World

In a historic visit to Burma, U.S. President Barack Obama has acknowledged the beginning of reforms, saying the United States will support democracy efforts, economic development and efforts at national reconciliation.

In a speech at the University of Rangoon, Obama referred to a pledge he made at his presidential inauguration in 2009 to "extend a hand" to governments that ruled by fear if they are ready to "unclench their fist."

He reviewed a long history of U.S. - Burma relations, saying he came because of America's belief in human dignity. He said a dramatic transition is under way in Burma.

"Over the past year and a half, a dictatorship of five decades has loosened its grip.  Under President Thein Sein, the desire for change has been met by an agenda for reform," said Obama. "A civilian now leads the government, and a parliament is asserting itself."

  • 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.

The president noted the release of some political prisoners, the National League for Democracy standing in the 2010 election, the banning of forced labor, new economic laws, and preliminary cease-fires with ethnic groups.

Saying he came to extend the hand of friendship, he noted the easing of U.S. sanctions and the appointment of a U.S. ambassador. But he cautioned that Burma has much further to go.

“This remarkable journey has just begun, and has much further to go," he said. "Reforms launched from the top of society must meet the aspirations of citizens who form its foundation. The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished, they must be strengthened, they must become a shining North Star for all this nation’s people."

The president listed freedoms the Burmese people should have, including freedom of assembly, worship and expression. He called for an end to media censorship.

Obama drew applause twice, once when he said no reform process can succeed without national reconciliation with ethnic groups. He also called for an end to violence against Rohingyas in Burma's Rakhine state.
President Obama's stops in Burma, Thailand and Cambodia.President Obama's stops in Burma, Thailand and Cambodia.
President Obama's stops in Burma, Thailand and Cambodia.
President Obama's stops in Burma, Thailand and Cambodia.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accompanied Obama to Burma. Their motorcade drove down a road lined with thousands of people, including students holding U.S. and Burmese flags, and signs reading "Mr. Obama we love you."

​At the parliament building, Obama met with President Thein Sein, a former general who has led reform steps.

"I shared with President Thein Sein our belief that the process of reform that he is taking is one that will move this country forward," he said.

In translated remarks, the Burmese president said relations had some disappointments and obstacles over the past two decades, but are now being repaired.

"I would like to reiterate our commitment to continue cooperation to strengthen our bilateral relations in the years to come," he said.

At the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, Obama praised her as a brave fighter for democracy. She said ongoing reforms will face difficult challenges.

Obama: "I especially want to thank Aung San Suu Kyi for welcoming me to her home. Here, through so many difficult years is where she displayed such unbreakable courage and determination. It is here where she showed that human freedom and dignity cannot be denied."

Suu Kyi: "The most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight. Then we have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success and that we are working toward genuine success for our people and for the friendship between our two countries."

In his speech, President Obama said Burma can serve as "a test of whether a country can transition to a better place" and as an example to others in the region.

"Here in Rangoon, I want to send a message across Asia: we don't need to be defined by the prisons of the past. We need to look forward to the future," he stated. "To the leadership of North Korea, I have offered a choice: let go of your nuclear weapons, and choose the path of peace and progress. If you do, you will find an extended hand from the United States of America."

In his Rangoon speech, Obama referred to the title of an essay and book by Aung San Suu Kyi: "Freedom from Fear."

The Burmese people, he said, are showing the world that fear does "not have to be the natural state of life in their country."

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: menolie from: Eudora Kansas, U.S.A.
November 19, 2012 8:18 PM
Good luck with North Korea Mr. President.

by: Anonymous
November 19, 2012 9:29 AM

by: Anonymous
November 19, 2012 9:08 AM

by: Paris Tun from: Yangon
November 19, 2012 8:08 AM
Simply, as a myanmar citizen, i hope that good relationships with US will mean, more investments from US and more job opportunities for us. Esp, english translator or interpretor posts. My heart sinks whenever i look at the job ads which is full of vacancies for chinese or japenese translators.

by: zaw htet from: Myanmar
November 19, 2012 7:37 AM
Welcomes to OBAMA.You are one of grate person i admire.

by: Rabbani from: England, UK
November 19, 2012 6:15 AM
Thank you for your opinion. Your comment will appear only after we think it is the same as our opinion

by: Rabbani from: England
November 19, 2012 6:13 AM
Anyone ever wonder why USA is so interested in Burmas? USA has no History what so ever with Burma!!!!!!, oh I know an initial disgusting step to have a presence to destabalise China, NASTY, people google or Yahoo to find the facts!!!!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs