By Duane Paul Murphy
The Catholic University’s International Affairs Association hosted a panel regarding the contemporary political situation in the Asian country of Burma on Wednesday. The event, which was held in Caldwell Hall, was sponsored by the university’s politics department and the United States Department of State Public Diplomacy Office.
The event featured Jesse Finkel, a diplomatic officer within the State Department’s Bureau of East Asia & Pacific Affairs. Andrew Yeo, a professor within the university’s politics department, was the moderator of the event.
Throughout the event, Finkel discussed the political situation in Burma and its political transition towards democracy as well as towards an open economy. Recently, in 2015, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy Party won the Burmese national elections by large results, crushing the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party. However, Finkel brought up the fact that the military still controls a quarter of the national legislature and passed a constitutional amendment before the nation’s transition to democracy which bars Burmese citizens who have married foreign nationals, such as Suu Kyi and her former British husband, from becoming president.
In regards to that specific amendment within the constitution, Finkel said that “the clause itself is not wholly unpopular within Burma.” He also said that the current native born president of Burma, Htin Kyaw, closely works with Suu Kyi on the economic and political interests the United States has with Burma in order to counter China’s influence in Southeast Asia.
When asked about neighboring India’s relations with the new transitional regime in Burma, Finkel said that India is more concerned with East Asian relations with nations such as China rather than Southeast Asia despite their shared colonial past under the British Raj in Southern Asia.
In his opening statement, Finkel briefly discussed his previous positions within the State Department. Finkel worked in central and southern sub-Saharan Africa to help local security forces and he worked in the Chinese consulate office in Shanghai. He also lived in Switzerland during the historical time of the Iran Deal talks. Finkel currently lives in Washington, D.C. and works for the Burma Desk Office within the department’s Office of Mainland Southeast Asia.
At the end of the event, students were pleased with the speaker and with the discussion of his personal experiences with foreign policy.
“The entire event was highly interesting and enjoyable,” said freshman politics major Katie Hodgdon. “Mr. Finkel provided a useful and interesting insight to foreign policy, especially from the perspective of the Department of State. As someone who plans on becoming a foreign service officer, it was interesting to hear what the process is like to becoming one.”
“I thought it was really insightful and rewarding to hear about Jesse Finkel’s background as a foreign service officer as well as his experience this past year in the Burma unit,” said Natalia Jaramillo Sfeir, a senior politics major and president of the International Affairs Association.