Myanmar Overwhelmed by Obama's Kiss

Barack Obama made history by becoming the first president of the United States to set foot on Myanmar. Many people cheered his visit while others reminded him that it's premature for a U.S. president to visit Myanmar today. Netizens used the hashtag #Oburma to document and monitor Obama's trip. Keywords such as “Myanmar” and “Aung San Suu Kyi” became worldwide trends.

News about Obama's plan to visit Myanmar excited many people. Printing shops hurriedly distributed U.S. flags and Obama merchandise items.

Thant Myint U, a historian and grandson of former United Nations Secretary U Thant, mentioned that Obama's grandfather had been to Myanmar during World War II.

@thantmyintu Remembering that Pres Obama's grandfather served with King's African Rifles in Burma, was prob part of advance down Chindwin to Mandalay.

Obama's historic visit to Myanmar. Photo from CJMyanmar

A young graffiti artist, Ar Kar Kyaw, painted “Welcome Obama”graffiti in Yangon which grabbed media and public attention, although the artwork was almost damaged by rival painters.

Yangon University underwent some renovations since Obama was set to deliver a speech in the school prompting Ko Htike to comment[my]:

It looks like Obama saved the Yangon University which was destroyed by Khin Nyunt. Now that they are renovating, treasuring the institution… it seems Myanmar military junta only appreciates the value of institutions only when others say so.

On the other hand, some assumed his visit as an effort to establish closer relations with a country which has been dealing only with China in the past few decades. Myo Set discusses[my] this viewpoint:

Rather than emphasizing on Kachin [Civil War] issue, Obama is expected to talk more seriously about the Rohingya riots when he comes. In the name of promoting humanitarian aid, he will make effort to irritate China regarding the Kyaut Phyu Pipeline. […] I just want to suggest to Rakhine organisations to provide detailed historical facts and proofs (regarding the Rohingya issue). Furthermore, I wish they could discuss (with Obama) about the geographical situation of Myanmar and the reported overpopulation of Bangladesh together with Myanmar Human Rights Commission. […] Regardless of what Obama will be discussing, his aim is just to take Myanmar from China. I guess the main purpose of lifting the sanctions is also for this. […] I assume we have to face the unnecessary U.S-China rivalry too early than we expected.

Just before President Obama arrived, 49 political prisoners[my] were freed by the government.

Obama was greeted by motorcades and large crowds everywhere. A few years ago, no one would have expected to see U.S. flags in the streets of Myanmar. But what the public appreciated the most was the kiss Obama gave to opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Although Myanmar remains a conservative country, almost everyone online did not think it as inappropriate and even praised it as a “royal kiss“. Thin Thin Tun describes[my] it as a gesture of friendship between the two countries:

Although it's not quite comfortable to see it through “Myanmar's eyes”, (I believe) it is a reflection of the warm and lovely friendship (between U.S and Myanmar).

Thousands of people gathered in the streets of Yangon to greet Obama. Photo from CJMyanmar

Those who did not have a chance to attend Obama's speech at the university enjoyed the live broadcasting from local channels and some went to tea shops to watch it together with neighbours. Nay Myo Zin, on a different note, wrote[my] about the power outage in some parts of Yangon while Obama was delivering his lecture:

A while after the speech was broadcasted, the electricity went off in Yangon. Till now 5:15 pm, we have to stay in the dark. Day time is short as the cold season is approaching. I silently welcome the U.S. president from the dark land of Myanmar. I was thinking I could die happily if we have a chance to live with stable supply of water and electricity while I was listening President's speech. Now, it becomes dark as there is no light in South Dagon township. By flapping the fan, I am wishing no mosquitoes would bite Obama in the dark.

Obama's speech remains the most talked about issue in Myanmar. Rohingya supporters criticized Obama for not strongly condemning the riots in western Myanmar, while others gave high praises for the speech. Meanwhile, Tom Bergreen asserted that Myanmar should not follow the diversity in the way U.S managed to do it:

For the most part I liked his speech, but there are two areas where our opinions diverge.

First, and this is a rather general thing and is a criticism of US and western foreign policy in general, I think that the worship of Daw Suu is understandable, but I think it creates a cult of personality around her as an individual rather than embracing her ideas and leadership.

Second, although there cannot be exceptions with respect to human rights and slowing ALL persons to live in dignity… (but) citizenship should be based on a set of laws that are applied equally to all within Myanmar borders. As long as the conflict there is viewed erroneously (IMHO) by foreign media and governments as a sectarian one, resolution is nearly impossible. This should be treated as a constitutional issue and must be decided by Rule of Law.

Of course some netizens were humorous in their comments about Obama's trip. Others were more interested in using traditional astrological belief to determine the day Obama was born. For instance, Win Min Ko shared a photo of Obama pouring water at the Friday corner of Shwedagon Pagoda with a caption:

Friday born Obama.

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