President Barack Obama is set to appoint Derek Mitchell as the first U.S. special representative to Burma. Mitchell is currently the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs. “The timing of Mitchell’s appointment is a clear signal to Burmese leaders that the United States is seriously interested in stepping up engagement,” says Suzanne DiMaggio, Asia Society’s Vice President for Global Policy Programs. “It comes on the heels of the official dissolution of the country’s ruling military junta and the swearing in of retired general Thein Sein as Burma’s president. So far, the changes have been more in name than in substance as the military leaders who have been recycled into political life will likely remain at the helm of government for at least one or two five-year terms. Nevertheless, this is a period of transition in Burma. The big question now is whether competing power centers will be able to develop over time both at the national and the state levels. The appointment of an envoy dedicated to Burma puts the United States in a better position to enter into a protracted period of more active engagement with all facets of Burmese society and encourage desperately needed reforms.”
Suzanne, who is based in New York, is Director of Asia Society’s Task Force on U.S. Policy toward Burma/Myanmar. To arrange an interview, contact the Asia Society communications department at 212-327-9271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.