In a six-hour visit to Myanmar today, President Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit the former military dictatorship. Obama’s trip to Asia this week is his first after re-election and is said to signal the seriousness of a so-called “pivot to Asia.” But how well is he being received? One survey suggests that many of Myanmar’s 50 million citizens don’t even know what to think.
Gallup, which regularly asks people around the world whether they “approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the United States” (and of other countries), took polls before Obama’s trip in Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand. In the latter two nations, 62% and 60% respectively of those polled said they approved, with 30% and 26% saying they didn’t know or wouldn’t answer. In Myanmar it was the other way around: 30% approved, and 67% could not or would not say.
That may not be surprising given that after a crackdown on protests in 1988, the military junta imposed an almost hermetic seal on the country (foreign relations extended only to a few countries like China and Thailand) that it has only recently started to lift. The US lifted sanctions this year after political reforms in Myanmar like releasing activist Aung San Suu Kyi, approving labor unions and relaxing censorship.