Myanmar and Its Struggle on the Way Ahead

     The dramatic reforms currently underway in Myanmar have grabbed headlines, but it is not yet clear whether progress is real or simply imagined. Western perceptions of the leadership situation in Myanmar are clouded by vested interests and myths that may prove harmful in the long run. Ethnic strife, and religious and political tensions, have been exacerbated by a variety of internal and external forces. The result is continued—and potentially increasing–violence. Conversely, there is reason to be optimistic, and there are bridges between Hawaii and Myanmar that are being built through business, education, and non-governmental organizations.


In this program, David Day hosts Ms. Paula Helfrich, born and raised as a child in Myanmar, and now again living in that country. Ms. Helfrich comes from a family history of expertise in Burma and Myanmar with her father having served in the country as an OSS officer during WW II and both her parents were invited back by the provisional government following the war to assist in rebuilding the country. Paula was born in Myanmar, lived there the first 17 years of her life, and then returned to live there again in 2009. 


Paula Helfrich

Paula Helfrich


     Ms. Helfrich engages in a discussion, along with Kerry Gershaneck of Pacific Forum CSIS, concerning the current conditions on the ground in Myanmar, what it is like doing business there, and the attitudes of the Myanmar people towards the United States. The discussion is very frank on the official policy of the United States, insisting on calling Myanmar, “Burma” and the impediment that policy imposes for undertaking legal contracts as well as the distaste that the people have for the use of the wrong name. Ms. Helfrich also addresses the  singular focus of the international media,  the State Department, and U.S. political leaders, on  Daw Aung Sung Suu Kyi to the exclusion of other political leaders within the country. Finally, Ms. Helfrich describes the real impetus behind the shift of the Junta to the path of reform and why it all came together when it did.

Kerry Gershaneck Pacific Forum CSIS

Kerry Gershaneck
Pacific Forum CSIS

     Ms. Helfrich comments critically upon  the “stick and carrot” approach of the United States towards the country, its successes and failures.  Mr. Gershaneck adds important depth to the discussion concerning important history of the Junta’s rise, its arms trading with North Korea, and the drug and human trafficking. Both engage in a discussion about the current U.S. sanctions, the various programs and policies of the U.S. government now  into place to assist Myanmar with the upcoming 2015 elections, the country’s upcoming leadership of ASEAN and the ethnic challenges Myanmar now faces. The conversation concludes with a view of what Myanmar will look like at the coming 5 and 10-year marks.

Hosted by David Day

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