By Francis Wade
Washington will reward signs of progress in Burma with a possible increase in aid to the long isolated state, and hopes to negotiate with the government to allow its troops into the country to search for the remains of US soldiers downed over Burma during the Second World War.
Clinton would also seek to reinstate an ambassador to the country, Reuters reported following talks today between the Secretary of State and Burmese President Thein Sein, who has described her visit as “historic”.
The US withdrew its ambassador after Burmese troops launched a bloody crackdown on the infamous 1988 student uprising. In the mid-1990s it slapped sanctions on the country, but tentative reforms made since the new government came to power in March has led to speculation that these will be eased in the near future.
Although officials in Washington remain coy on the future of punitive measures on the government, Clinton is believed to have told Thein Sein that the US would end its blockade of World Bank and IMF programmes in Burma. A delegation from the IMF spent several days in Burma last month to advise on streamlining the country’s multiple exchange rates and other nascent economic reform programmes.
The comments also follow hot on the heels of a warning by Clinton prior to her Burma visit that developing countries should be wary of the exploitative tendencies of donor countries like China.
Despite the fanfare surrounding Clinton’s visit, her rhetoric following talks with senior government officials has been cautious: she said that while the progress has been “encouraging” and that members of the country’s top brass “assured me that progress would continue and broaden”, the extent of reforms remains “insufficient”, AFP reported today.
The search for missing US pilots has been a contentious topic since Washington broke relations with Naypyidaw more than two decades ago. Such an operation would likely involve US troops entering Burma’s mountainous regions, something that would have been impossible under the previous Burmese junta.
Following talks in October between Burmese officials and visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, reporters were told that the topic of future military cooperation was broached. While Posner said that it would “have to wait for much further down the line,” analysts believe the search for missing pilots’ remains could be the first step along that path, along with inviting Burma to attend joint US training operations with Thailand.
Also involved in those talks was Derek Mitchell, who was made envoy to Burma earlier this year in keeping with the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act of 2008, which required the US to compensate for the position left vacant by its removal of an ambassador in the wake of the 1988 protests. The appointment of an ambassador would be a tangible sign that the US is willing to rekindle ties with Burma after years of criticism.
Washington however has made little secret of its anxiety over China’s growing clout in the region, with Clinton penning a seven-page article in Foreign Policy Magazine in September in which she provided a veritable blueprint for America’s re-entry to the Asia-Pacific region, following decades spent watching its strategic influence there wane. Observers believe this is a key catalyst for renewing ties with Burma, which is closely allied to China.