Burma’s Joy at Obama’s Victory and Visit

By Kyaw Phyo Tha & Dennis Aung Aung 8 November 2012

RANGOON—Barack Obama’s newly-won second term in office and unconfirmed reports of a visit to Burma later this month have been largely welcomed by the country’s political and business establishments, with many expressing hope that the US president further strengthens bilateral ties.

Even though the White House has not confirmed the trip, AFP reports that the newly re-elected US president will come to Burma on Nov. 19, quoting a Burmese government official.

Win Tin, one of the executive council members of the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said he felt glad about the incumbent’s triumph at Tuesday’s polls. “The Democrats have supported our country a lot, especially the NLD. So I think it was good when Mr. Obama was re-elected.”

Moe Myint, the joint-secretary of the Karen People’s Party, hopes that the re-election and upcoming visit of the 51-year-old will improve the US-Burma relationship.

“During his first term, Mr. Obama eased some of the sanctions that the US imposed on Burma. He also talked with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. That means he has good knowledge of what is happening in our country today,” said Moe Myint.

“If someone else won, there might have been policy changes for our country. His visit simply shows Burma and the US are now forging a better relationship. I hope his visit will bring opportunities for our country.”

Ethnic leaders like Hkun Htun Oo, president of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, welcomed the Chicago native’s extra four years in the White House and hoped that he would get involved in Burma’s minority affairs.

“It is good that he won,” he said. “Burma’s problems with ethnics groups have not finished yet. If he intervenes in these issues, it will be good. If we get a chance to see him, we would explain about the country’s ethnic issues.”

Zaw Aye Maung, the minister for Arakan (Rakhine) Affairs for Rangoon Division, emphasized that the proposed visit would be the first from a serving US president for five decades.

“As he is coming after his victory, he will be happy and there will be willingness [to cooperate],” he said. “I believe that his willingness to help out will surely work for our country’s benefit.”

The Rakhine Nationalities Development Party MP added that he would attempt to arrange a meeting between the US president and representatives of the Arakanese in Rangoon Network to explain the real situation and historical context of the current crisis in western Burma.

Apart from the political arena, Burmese businessmen have cheered the US president’s return to office and his expected visit to the country.

Mya Thin Aung, a director of First Myanmar Investment Co. Ltd. as well as of Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone in Rangoon, was delighted as the US president has supported Burma’s democratic transition by easing trade sanctions.

“What perfect timing!” he said. “Shortly after our president approved the foreign investment law, Mr. Obama was re-elected and is visiting our country. So it is assumed that the rest of sanctions will also be revoked, and his visit will surely pave the way for future investors from America.”

“His Burmese trip will clear the way for business opportunities,” said Dr. Aung Win, the deputy chairman of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association. “The government needs to discuss imports and duty free matters with him for we still haven’t had any formal agreement from the US government.”

US Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton came to Burma last December, and until now was the highest level White House official to have visited the country. In July this year, Derek Mitchell, the new US ambassador to Burma, formally assumed his position 22 years after diplomatic relations were downgraded in response to the former junta’s brutal crackdown on the 1988 democratic protests and its failure to honor the landslide NLD victory in the 1990 general election.