News / Asia

Obama Speech Sparks Reaction in Burma

Aung Ye Maung MaungThar Nyunt Oo
— Politicians and activists in Rangoon have expressed mixed reactions after President Barack Obama claimed reform in Burma, also known as Myanmar, as a success for U.S. foreign policy.

In a speech to graduates of the West Point military academy on Wednesday, Obama said that with the courage of the Burmese people, U.S. diplomatic initiative was a driver of democratic reform in Burma.

"We’re now supporting reform and badly needed national reconciliation through assistance and investment, through coaxing and, at times, public criticism. And progress there could be reversed, but if Burma succeeds, we will have gained a new partner without having fired a shot," said the president.

Executive member of ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, Hla Shwe, dismissed Obama’s claim as a “boast,” saying that reform in Burma is driven by itself without any help from the U.S.  

“What he [Obama] said was that because of their leadership, Burma gets on a track of reform. It’s a quiet boast. In fact, we are on the democratic path all by ourselves and we didn’t receive a penny from them until now,” said Hla Shwe.

'Carrot-and-stick policy'

Nan Khin Htwe Myint, a spokeswoman for the opposition National League for Democracy, said Washington’s carrot-and-stick policy did work with Burma. “I think he’s paving a way where [Burma] should go by showing his leadership.”

The Chairman of Burma’s Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, Hla Myint Oo, told VOA Burmese the Obama administration’s engagement policy with Burma is a positive move, but maintaining some sanctions appears consistent in Washington’s strategy.

“It’s very grateful that the international community, particularly the United States as a world power, have recognized our political and economic reforms. But the recent extension of U.S. sanctions for another year is regrettable for us,” said Hla Myint Oo.

However, Jennifer Quigley of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Myanmar was more critical.

I think we agree about engagement, but we don't agree on the extent of the engagement," she said. "We feel as if the U.S. has done too much too soon. And that leaves very little leverage for the human rights and democracy concerns that remain."

The U.S. and other western nations started easing sanctions after Burma began political reforms in 2011 following decades of military rule.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.

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