Her agenda also includes engaging the Myanmar leadership to assess how the two can further the tentative cracks that have managed to offset a thaw in relations frozen over decades. The US sanctions on Myanmar are still there and may require more than token gestures to be lifted. Approval from the US Congress will require wider reforms than the ones currently being experimented with. While Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been set free and her party is all set to participate in the by-elections, there are at least 1,600 political prisoners still languishing in jail. Despite the lifting of a certain amount of restrictions for media, politicians and businesses, Myanmar remains firmly in the grip of the powerful military.
Washington has promised reciprocation and better relations in the political and economic sphere in return of more political and social freedom in the country whose alliance with China and North Korea is also a source of worry. This is why Clinton’s trip is so important since it’s a clear message from the Obama administration of what can be expected if the government in Myanmar changes course and allows greater freedom to its people. Economic incentives will of course be a great inducement as will restarting diplomatic relations at some level.
The US is also hoping to gain more knowhow of Myanmar’s developing nuclear programme. Close relations with Pyongyang are a cause of concerns vis-à-vis nuclear technology and help in developing a covert military programme. Given how isolated Myanmar has been till now, this is something Washington and other regional states are deeply concerned about. It is likely that Clinton will insist on more open engagement on this front.
The good thing is that there is now a demonstrable inclination towards integrating with the international community. It might be too early to conclude that the generals in Myanmar may have understood where the isolationist path was leading the state but chances are that there might be a change in thinking. This is good news. Washington must also allow this change to develop at its its own pace and not force change thus endangering any progress achieved so far.