Little more than a year ago, there was talk of Myanmar (also known as Burma) as a “Chinese California”, offering China a west coast onto the Indian Ocean. Now, Coke and Pepsi billboards glare at each other across Yangon intersections. Aung San Suu Kyi, finally free from house arrest, collected her 21-year-old Nobel Peace Prize in June, while president Thein Sein may one day receive his own for “spearheading a gradually evolving peace process in the country“. As the country shifts out of its long-established Chinese orbit, U.S. president Barack Obama visited Myanmar on Monday together with secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the first time an American president had ever been there.
Beijing has met these developments with a muted but clear lack of enthusiasm. From Evan Osnos at The New Yorker, citing a CDT Ministry of Truth Directive on Obama’s visit:
The clearest measure of the symbolic significance of President Obama’s visit to Burma on Monday came not in his surprising speech, or in the sight of him towering over the Nobel laureate and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi. It came from a less likely source: the Chinese Propaganda Department.
In the past year, as Burmese leaders released wave after wave of political prisoners, ended its censorship of the press, and welcomed former dissidents into government, China and its fellow-autocrats, have looked on with bewilderment and no small degree of concern that the infection of openness could spread beyond Burma’s borders. So in an internal notice to national media last week, China’s Orwellian agency, which oversees the world’s largest censorship apparatus, made clear just how it feels about witnessing an American President welcomed by once-hostile generals in Burma, a nation that was, just two years ago, one of China’s most avid partners in authoritarianism: “Downplay Obama’s visit,”
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