Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Busan, South Korea and Napyitaw, Burma Nov 30

We flew from DC to Busan last night (this morning? it's all a little confused). Clinton was in South Korea to attend a conference on international aid, but the real point of this trip is Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

I've written the story over and over again over the past week or so, but now that it is happening it really DOES feel historic -- the first U.S. secretary of state to visit since 1955, the potential opening of one of the world's most reclusive and at times brutal regimes.

Busan was sort of a wash -- we were exhausted after the 20 hour trip, and the point of the conference (international aid) was worthy but a little dull, at least as far as an international meeting goes. She gave a speech, took a dig at China, which is expanding its own international aid programs but does not follow the same standards when it comes to transparency and accountability, and that was it. Pusan is a good looking place: the world's fifth largest port, lots of new skycrapers around the harbor, and another one of these amazing new Asian bridges that soars across the narrows. But we didn't see much and it was all over so fast.

Then the flight to Burma. Five hours, and everyone was a little edgy. They played the movie "Beyond Rangoon" -- a pretty awful Hollywood offering from a few years ago about a pretty young American woman (of course) caught up in the Burmese pro-democracy demonstrations and ensuing brutal crackdown in 1988. I was nervous all the way because of my rough experience with sat phones in Libya, and wasn't sure how the whole thing would turn out.

Lots of turbulence as we passed into Burmese airspace, and then the descent to the weird new capital of Nyapytaw (I can never spell that right), the new capital that the regime built from scratch about five years ago in the middle of the country because, it is said, the top general got a premonition that the U.S. was going to attack Rangoon.

On the way down we flew past an enormous gold-plated stupa, and then onto the airfield -- which has no terminal, and no lights so we had to arrive before sunset. She came down the staircase to a low-key welcome from a handful of Burmese officials, while photographers snapped pictures standing underneath a huge "welcome banner" -- for the prime minister of Belarus, who arrives tomorrow (!).

The motorcade trundled along a very new but very uneven highway, past rice paddies and construction sites for more of the new ministry buildings which the government is building everywhere even though nobody lives here. At most intersections there were uniformed policemen very solemnly holding up their hands to stop non-existent traffic...there are even fewer cars than people!

We're at the hotel now..It has Internet which is a huge relief. And my sat phone is working. So..so far, so good. Clinton starts her meetings tomorrow