Guest Column

Marking 70 Years of US-Myanmar Relations

By Scot Marciel 18 September 2017

Today we commemorate a milestone anniversary in the relations between the United States and Myanmar. It was 70 years ago today, on September 18, 1947, that the US Department of State announced that the governments of Burma and the United States had “agreed to exchange representatives with the rank of ambassador.” That announcement was made months before Myanmar’s formal independence—meaning that our formal relations actually began even before the independence of modern Myanmar itself.

Our relationship has been a rich one, and has often been carried out at the highest levels, starting with President Harry S Truman’s congratulatory message to President Sao Shwe Thaike when Myanmar declared independence on January 4, 1948. From Vice President Richard Nixon ringing the wishing bell at Shwedagon Pagoda in 1953, to the historic first trip to Myanmar by a US president when President Obama visited in 2012, US leaders have shown that Myanmar matters to America.

US President Barack Obama and Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi meet at Suu Kyi’s home in Yangon November 19, 2012. President Obama became the first serving US president to visit Myanmar. (Reuters)

At the same time, we know relations have not always been smooth. During the days of Myanmar’s military regime, they were often strained nearly to the breaking point. But while relations between our governments have varied over time, what has remained constant is our friendship with, and commitment to, all people in Myanmar. We have built a partnership, formalized as the US-Myanmar Partnership in 2016, based on mutual respect and shared values, especially the values of democratic governance, peace, and the opportunity of a better life for all.

When the people of Myanmar freely and clearly chose to live in a democracy in 2015, the United States stood with them and today remains committed to supporting Myanmar’s democracy and this democratic transition. We have always been, and remain, advocates for prosperity, peace, and national reconciliation in Myanmar. We show that commitment to the people of Myanmar when we send students to the United States on scholarships, help farmers increase their incomes, or bring our Peace Corps volunteers to teach English here, opening up life-changing opportunities for young children. I, like every member of my Embassy team, am proud to be a part of these efforts and this friendship.

An anniversary is a time to reflect, to take stock of our shared history. It is also a time to address the present and look to the future.

 

We are friends, and friends speak to each other openly and honestly. Today, we mark this anniversary while a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Rakhine State that must be addressed. The United States has publicly condemned the August 25 attacks against security forces, but we are also deeply troubled by the ongoing violence in Rakhine, where some 400,000 people have fled their homes. We have called for Myanmar security authorities to respect the rule of law, stop the violence, and end the displacement of civilians from all communities. We welcome the government’s commitment to provide humanitarian assistance to victims as quickly as possible and encourage them to do so. We also welcome the government’s efforts to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State to address the root causes of this conflict and build a better future.

All of this we have done in the spirit of our 70-year-old friendship and our ongoing commitment to the people of Myanmar. We are ready and willing to work together to restore peace, foster tolerance, and help all communities in Rakhine recover from this tragedy. And we stand ready and willing to continue and deepen our friendship with the Myanmar people, for the next 70 years and beyond.

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