The newly freed Aung San Suu Kyi has been giving out cautious signals of what she plans to do now that she is back in sunlight. While her release from long detention was surely a seminal event not only for the people of her country but also for the rest of the world, it was how she intended to make use of her freedom that became an important question for many. Perhaps there was reason enough here for such a question. In her previous stints of fitful freedom, Ms. Suu Kyi’s refusal to go soft on the military junta ruling her country swiftly saw her back in lonely imprisonment. That as well as the feeling in a good many quarters that her idealism had all along been getting the better of her judgement may well have played a role in her present change of attitude. Where earlier she was vociferously in favour of outside nations clamping sanctions on her country unless the regime relented, now she appears to have shifted ground just a little.
And that shift has largely to do with how she perceives the role of the United States in an evolution towards democracy in her country. She does not believe any more that American engagement with the junta is ruinous for pluralism. The position fits in rather well with that adopted by the Obama administration, which clearly has come round to the idea that a dialogue, after all, with the military regime is better than a so far fruitless policy of isolation of it. One may quite be mystified by the way in which the military, in power since 1962, has hung on despite international condemnation of it. Sanctions have not worked, for the simple reason that a good number of nations, notably the country’s neighbours, have regularly maintained trade with Myanmar. That has certainly not earned the regime any respect. It has only demonstrated its entrenched nature. Such a reality now seems to have dawned on Suu Kyi, who has nevertheless urged Washington to keep its eyes open and remain alert about what happens from here on in Myanmar. Her emphasis on human rights is a sign that while she may be ready to change tactics in pursuit of her politics, her goal remains unflagging.
Ms. Suu Kyi must be encouraged in the careful moves she makes toward egging, by slow degrees, Myanmar toward democracy. The regime, for all its self-confidence generated by the recent ‘elections’, will need to engage not just with America but with Suu Kyi as well. The woman who led her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to a landslide electoral triumph in 1990, is in every sense Myanmar’s face to the outside world. It is for the Obama administration and other democratic nations to see that Aung San Suu Kyi remains the symbol of her people’s aspirations. And it is for Myanmar’s generals to make sure they do not again make the mistake of ignoring her. So far, she has refused to fade away or be silenced.