In Burma, an Opening for Greater US Engagement

“Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s long-awaited release from house arrest has stirred hope in people worldwide that change may finally come to Burma,” says Suzanne DiMaggio, Asia Society’s Director of Policy Studies. “Many are asking why was she released now, just days following the country’s first elections in two decades? Burma’s military leaders are spinning it as part of their seven-step program to ‘disciplined democracy.’ It is more likely an attempt to deflect attention away from widespread reports of voter fraud and rigging in an election where the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party claims to have won 80 percent of the vote. With the pre-engineered election now behind them, they apparently are confident that Suu Kyi’s freedom will not interfere with the results.”

“Suu Kyi’s release, combined with the renewed international attention it is bringing to the plight of the Burmese people, represents an opportunity for the Obama administration. During this transitional phase in Burmese politics, the United States should prepare for a protracted period of more active engagement than it has taken in the past, with the aim of helping to move Burma away from authoritarian rule and into the world community. To get there, it would help if China and India -- Burma’s key military backers and trading partners -- used their leverage to move things in this direction. In his address to India’s Parliament last week when he voiced support for India’s seat on the U.N. Security Council, President Obama called on Delhi to play a more positive role in Burma. The gap with China on this issue seems as large as ever as Beijing hailed the elections as a critical step in Burma’s ‘transition to an elected government,’ ignoring the widespread irregularities and intimidation that took place prior to the election.”

Suzanne, who is based in New York, is Director of the 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