Events in Myanmar have led to an improvement in U.S. relations, all in all a favorable development.
Since a 1962 military coup, the nation formerly known as Burma, with 61 million people, has been something of a dark hole. For years it had a repressive government, controlled by military officers. The government's most visible victim was opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, referred to as "The Lady" and kept under house arrest for years. Her party, the National League for Democracy, won the 1990 national elections hands down, but the military refused to give up power.
One result has been a low level of economic development. In spite of Myanmar's resources it has remained one of the poorest countries in a region of "Asian tigers." Because of its dismal human rights performance, the West and other Asian countries had shunned it and imposed economic sanctions starting in 1988.
Now it seems to be emerging from the miasma of years of political and economic underdevelopment. The United States marked the change this week when President Barack Obama received Ms. Suu Kyi, now an elected member of parliament, at the White House, and Congress awarded her a gold medal. U.S. officials eased sanctions to a degree and will meet with Myanmar's president, Thein Sein, a former general reflagged as a civilian.
Pittsburgh had the privilege this week of a visit by Michelle Fanzo, an expert on Myanmar, hosted by the World Affairs Council. She was cautiously optimistic, noting that the country's political evolution and economic emergence are proceeding, but need to be monitored. Sanctions may be gradually relaxed. Remaining problems include pushing and pulling among Myanmar's neighbors, notably China, in competition for its resources; a longtime, festering problem with ethnic minorities, sometimes backed by elements from outside the country; and drug production and export.
Progress is reasonable, however. The next major crossroad for Myanmar will be elections in 2015.