The world listened warily as US president George W. Bush delivered his
Although the address was filled with words and thoughts of “freedom” and
“liberty”, the immediate question being asked is whether the administration’s
war machine will now go to Iran or North Korea.
As violence grows in Iraq, skeptics ask whether Bush will deliver freedom to
the world or more carnage? Their doubts are shared in almost every corner of the
world— in Europe, Latin America and Asia.
Yet in Burma, a country run for decades by a powerful dictatorial regime,
people are pleased with the Bush administration. The home-based opposition and
activists in exile are hoping that the administration will do more on Burma.
Burma? Yes, that country flanked by two powerful giants, China and India, and
which is not on Washington’s top priority list.
In today’s Burma there is consequently a mixed reaction to Bush’s second term
Some dissidents who have been deeply frustrated by their long struggle, see a
ray of hope. And the ray has been cast by Bush’s new Secretary of State,
During her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, just before Bush’s
inauguration, Rice named Burma as one of a group of nations that she said were
“outposts of tyranny” (the others were North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Belarus and
“In our world, there remain outposts of tyranny, and America stands with
oppressed people on every continent, in Cuba, and Burma, and North Korea, and
Iran, and Belarus, and Zimbabwe,” she declared.
The comment pleased a number of Burmese dissidents.
Zin Linn, head of the information department of the exiled National Coalition
Government of the Union of Burma, or NCGUB, said in Bangkok that the group
expected the US to take more interest in Burma and play a more active role.
Dissidents in Rangoon, however, voiced frustration as they countered a
situation of despair in the country.
The main opposition party, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy,
or NLD, has shown little enthusiasm about Rice’s statement.
Speaking to the BBC’s Burmese Service in London, U Lwin, Secretary of the
NLD, expressed his doubt about US political leverage on Burma and said he
doesn’t expect any dramatic policy shift in Washington’s Burma policy.
Kyaw Yin Hlaing, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National
University of Singapore, thought US policy towards Burma would remain unchanged.
He thinks that Washington’s policy on Burma would stay the same regardless of
what party won the White House.
Kyaw Yin Hlaing believes, however, that Washington will have to make a hard
decision in 2006, when Burma is due take over chairmanship of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, and hold a regional summit.
He said one possibility is that Washington may not send its officials to
Asean meetings in 2006, if they are held in Burma.
Speaking to the BBC’s Burmese Service, Thai Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Sihasak Phuangketkeow, said Thailand would continue to pursue dialogue with the
generals. Though Bangkok wanted to see political development in Burma the
approach might differ from Washington’s.
To the Burmese opposition, Bush is anyway siding with a good cause.
Burmese dissidents wanted Bush to win in 2004 because they believed “the
administration will keep a strong policy on Burma.” Washington remains one of
the strongest vocal critics of the Burmese junta, and there are calls for even
In July 2004, Bush signed a law extending a range of trade sanctions on
Burma, imposed the previous year as a penalty for failing to improve its human
rights record, clamp down on drug trafficking or release opposition leader Aung
San Suu Kyi from house arrest.
The Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act 2003 includes a ban on US investments
in, and imports from, Burma, as well as financial services and certain property
dealings. Since 1988 the US has also had an arms embargo in place and bilateral
aid has been suspended.
Burma’s ruling generals have felt Washington’s wrath for years, in the form
of trade sanctions, visa bans on families and associates of military leaders and
After the bloody massacre of democracy demonstrators in 1988, Washington
downgraded diplomatic relations with Burma, and relations remain rocky today.
Since 1988, the US government has strongly criticized the junta for its
routine human rights abuses and its refusal to hand over power to the 1990
election winner, the NLD. The Burmese government has constantly accused Suu Kyi
of being a puppet of the west, yet strong US support for the democracy leader
has not waned.
The junta also keeps its anti-US stance, at least in its newspapers. Articles
appearing in state-owned papers continue to blast US “interference” in internal
Some articles also accused Washington of attempting to make Burma its
As for the Burmese people themselves, they hope for more extreme action from
Bush. Inside Burma, many opponents of the military genuinely hoped US troops
would come to topple the Burmese dictators after they finished with Saddam
Hussein in Iraq.
Ross Dunkley, chief editor of the Myanmar Times, a semi-government
publication in Rangoon, has said: “One thing is pretty common. They all want
George W. Bush and the UN to come into Myanmar ( Burma) with a whole lot of guns
and airplanes and jets and to solve the problem. They believe that's possible."
Other opposition groups inside and outside Burma favor increased pressure and
tougher sanctions against the generals.
After hearing Bush’s speech, in which the American President emphasized his
country’s intention to expand freedom and support the growth of democratic
movements and institutions around the world, some Karen leaders along the
Thai-Burmese border reacted with enthusiasm.
Padoh Mahn Sha, Secretary General of the Karen National Union, or KNU, hoped
that Bush would take the Burma question to the UN Security Council. “The US
should apply all kinds of pressure to see tangible results in Burma,” the Karen
leader said.But will Bush send his bombers to Rangoon? The answer, of course, is
no. The generals in Rangoon are not about to hit the ground.