“President Thein Sein has taken the first steps toward a long-awaited opening. His government has eased some restrictions on the media and civil society, opened a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s democratic opposition, rewritten election and labor laws, and released 200 prisoners of conscience,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently in Burma. “It is encouraging that political prisoners have been released, but over a thousand are still not free. Let me say publicly what I said privately . . . No person in any country should be detained for exercising universal freedoms of expression, assembly, and conscience.”
John Foster Dulles was the last American Secretary of State to visit Burma. At the time, Burma was considered the jewel of Asia. In the last half century, other countries have raced ahead and turned East Asia into a center of dynamic growth. “The most consequential question facing [Burma] . . . is not [its] relationship with the United States or with any other nation,” Secretary Clinton Said. “It is whether leaders will let their people live up to their God-given potential and claim their place at the heart of the 21st century. . . . There is no guarantee how that question will be answered. But if it is answered in a positive way, I think the potential is unlimited.”
It is encouraging that Aung San Suu Kyi is now free to take part in the political process, but that will not be sufficient unless all political parties can compete in free, fair, and credible elections.
“[Burma’s] diversity - its dozens of ethnic groups and languages, its shrines, pagodas, mosques, and churches should be a source of strength,” Secretary Clinton continued. “We welcome initial steps from the government to reduce ethnic tensions . . . But as long as terrible violence continues . . . it will be difficult to begin a new chapter.”
“For decades, the choices of this country’s leaders kept it apart from the global economy and the community of nations,” Secretary Clinton concluded. "Today, the United States is prepared to respond to reforms with measured steps to lessen the isolation and to help improve the lives of [Burma’s] citizens. As I told President Thein Sein ... the United States is prepared to walk the path of reform with you if you choose to keep moving in that direction. And there’s no doubt that direction is the right one for the people."