President Obama's visit to
Myan ... Burma ... Myan Southeast Asia, and the country once known as Burma, got off to a rocky start when he referred to the nation, in talks with its president on Monday, as Myanmar. Part of the reason this is a big deal is that Obama is the first U.S. president to visit the country as it finally opens up after years of military rule. We'll let Mitt Romney's ex-foreign-policy guru tell us the other reason:
Okay, that's a bit blunt (though conservatives on Twitter are saying harsher things). But Grenell gets the point across—Myanmar is the name given by the military junta that took over in 1989, and saying Myanmar is kinda like saying you agree with the military junta, which, as the BBC points out, changed the name "a year after thousands were killed in the suppression of a popular uprising. Rangoon also became Yangon."
But... Myanmar is still the official name of the country, and countries like France and Japan still recognize "Myanmar" along with The United Nations. So you could see how it could all be confusing. And as we found out, U.S. news agencies don't even agree with the state department, but agree with the U.N. on the naming.
All that said, here's a little guide on who's using what name and when:
If You're the President of the United States and President Thein Sein Isn't in the Room: Burma
"The military government changed the country name to 'Myanmar' in 1989. It remains U.S. policy to refer to the country as Burma," reads the State Department's website (note: when we read the State Department's website, we imagine Hillary Clinton's voice reading it, and that makes it even more serious).
If You're the President of the United States and President Thein Sein Is in the Room: Myanmar
"Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said afterward that Obama's use of Myanmar was 'a diplomatic courtesy' that doesn't change the U.S. position that the country is still Burma," reads a report from Fox News on the gaffe.
If You're Someone at the UN: Myanmar
The caveat here is that there is usually a line like Buzzfeed's Zeke Miller used in his lede (though sometimes it doesn't sound like you're referring to Prince): "A global celebrity — even in an emerging democracy. And the first-ever American president to visit the country formerly known as Burma."
If You're Working at Fox News or The Washington Post: Burma
And ... Aung San Suu Kyi Doesn't Care What You Call It. This is from an interview with Christiane Amanpour in September:
So, yeah. That's a lot to take in there, and not a lot of agreement. To that we'll say that you're your own person and can make up your mind however you see fit—if you want to go by the State Department, be our guest, or if the UN is your thing, go right ahead. But at the end of the day and no matter how you may feel about Burma/Myanmar, can we all agree that Burmese/Myanmar political theme music and Obama saying "The Golden Stupa" is sort of the best thing ever?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.