BALI, Indonesia — Myanmar seemed poised for a historic shift Friday as dissident leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi ended her boycott of the country's authoritarian political system and President Barack Obama announced plans to send the U.S. secretary of state there for the first time in 50 years.
The announcements were the clearest sign yet how seriously the Obama administration and Suu Kyi, the standard-bearer of Myanmar's long-persecuted democracy movement, are taking the political changes instituted by the country's leaders.
"After years of darkness, we've seen flickers of progress," Obama said from Indonesia, where he was attending a summit with Asian leaders, who anointed Myanmar the next chair of their regional grouping.
The nominally civilian government of President Thein Sein — who, like many members of the leadership, is a former military officer — has released some political prisoners, allowed greater freedom for the media and outlined an agenda of political and economic opening. The shifts this year come as the leaders of Myanmar, also known as Burma, seem to be re-evaluating their regional allegiances.
Mike Mitchell, a longtime supporter of the Myanmar democracy movement, said, "This isn't a revolution like in Tunisia or Egypt. It's been a series of small steps by a regime that until seven months ago was one of the most ostracized in the world, and for good reason."