A Look Back: Five Years of Burma-US Relations

By The Irrawaddy 14 November 2014

After two decades of sanctions, the United States has been cautiously moving toward a policy of engagement with Burma. The Irrawaddy looks back at five years of warming relations.

January 2009: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Jim Webb, an opponent of US sanctions on Burma, to discuss a “fresh look” at the country’s longstanding Burma policy.

March 2009:Clinton sent Stephen Blake, Director of the State Department’s Office for Mainland Southeast Asia, to Burma. Blake became the first US official to travel to Naypyidaw and met with Burmese foreign minister Nyan Win.

Aug. 14, 2009: Senator Webb traveled to Naypyidaw to meet with Than Shwe, the chairman of the State Peace and Development Council and Burma’s then-head of state. Webb successfully negotiated the release of US citizen John Yettaw, who was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment earlier in the year for swimming across Inya Lake in an attempt to meet with opposition leader Aung San SuuKyi, who was then under house arrest.

Dec. 1, 2011: Clinton visited Burma, the first trip by a secretary of state since 1955. Clinton met with President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw and Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon, after which she announced a relaxation of restrictions on aid and the flagging of a possible exchange of ambassadors. The US withdrew its ambassador in 1990 after the military refused to recognize the results of that year’s election.

Jan. 10, 2012: Vice-President Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo met Derek Mitchell, US special representative and policy coordinator for Burma.

Jan. 29, 2012: US Senate confirmed Derek Mitchell as the US ambassador to Burma.

May 17, 2012: Clinton announces the suspension of US sanctions against Burma during foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin’s first visit to Washington.

Jul. 11, 2012: Derek Mitchell formally assumed his position by presenting his credentials to Thein Sein at the presidential residence in Naypyidaw.

Oct. 15, 2012: A 22-member US delegation, including senior military officials, arrived in Burma to attend a human rights conference and meet with government officials. The delegation was led by Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

Oct. 19, 2012: US President Barack Obama visited Burma, the first ever visit by a sitting US president to the country. He met Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, and delivered a speech at Rangoon University, affirming his commitment to support Burma’s reform process. In meeting with Obama, Thein Sein made 11 specific commitments to strengthen human rights protections in Burma.

Dec. 18, 2012: US Ambassador Derek Mitchell made his first official visit to Kachin State. He met with local leaders in a bid to improve aid efforts for displaced refugees there, as fighting between ethnic rebels and government troops continued to escalate.

Feb. 7, 2013: The US Department of the Treasury blacklisted Lt. General Thein Htay, the head of Burma’s Directorate of Defense Industries (DDI), for his involvement the illicit trade of North Korean arms to Burma.

Feb. 25, 2013: The United States relaxed sanctions on four large banks in Burma, allowing them access to the US financial system as a reward for the country’s political reforms.

May 2, 2013: The Obama administration lifted a 1996 ban on granting US entry visas to Burma’s former military rulers, their business partners and immediate families.

May 20, 2013: Thein Sein met Obama at the White House. It was the first visit by a Burmese leader to the US since 1966. During the call, Thein Sein and his senior ministers reaffirmed their intention to uphold the commitments made during Obama’s first visit to Burma.

Aug. 7, 2013: The Myanmar-United States Trade Council (MUSATC) called for duty-free treatment of Burmese exports to the United States under its Generalized System of Preferences, citing recent labor reforms.

Aug. 29, 2013: Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing met with Derek Mitchell to discuss the role of the Burma military in US-Burma relations and Burma’s democratization.

Feb. 24, 2014: Kenneth Handelman, deputy assistant secretary of state for defense trade controls in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs told Jane’s Defence Weekly that the United States planned to expand its defense ties with Burma and would consider resuming arms sales if the country’s human rights record greatly improves.

May 2, 2014: Obama renewed the National Emergencies Act for another year, prohibiting US businesses and individuals from investing in Burma or doing business with Burmese figures involved in repression of the democracy movement.

Jun. 27, 2014: Tom Malinowski, US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, visited Burma and held discussions with Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing on promotion of military-to-military cooperation. He also met withSuu Kyi and members of the Union Election Commission. The purpose of the tour, Malinowski said, was to engage the Burmese government on a range of issues including ensuring free and fair elections and determining the future role of the Burmese military. He said that the US was preparing for “cautious” engagement with Burma’s military, which could include non-combat training.

Aug. 9, 2014: Secretary of State John Kerry attended the US-Asean Ministerial Meeting and other regional forums in Napyidaw. Kerry reiterated his country’s commitment to helping the country realize its full potential as a peaceful, just, prosperous and democratic society, and raised concerns about human rights issues.

Aug. 28, 2014: The second US-Asean Business Summit was held in Naypyidaw, attended by US businessmen.

Oct 27, 2014: Derek Mitchell visited Kachin State.  During the three-day visit, Mitchell met with advisors to the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), religious leaders and peace negotiators.

Oct. 31, 2014: US Department of Treasury places lower house lawmaker Aung Thaung from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party on its sanctions lit, an act condemned by the Burmese parliament.

Nov. 12, 2014: US President Barack Obama arrived in Naypyidaw to attend the Asean and East Asia Summit meetings.

Compiled by Wei Yan and Thet Ko Ko.