Easily overlooked amid the flurry of reforms in Myanmar, a diplomatic retooling is taking place at the US Embassy in Yangon. Cubicles that were once empty have found new occupants, relationships that had turned cold during two decades of political isolation are thawing and public diplomacy is flourishing.

Population growth, urbanisation, industrialisation and climate change are putting pressure on the world’s river basins, and “hydro-diplomacy” is essential if water-related conflicts are to be avoided, experts said on Wednesday.

Myanmar’s reconciliation process is often compared to South Africa’s but the entirely different conditions make it far more complex. After a triumphant tour of western Europe in June, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has just completed a coast-to-coast journey of the United States.

Thein Sein, a former general-turned-civilian, was sworn in as Burma's president just 18 months ago, and said he is guiding his country away from its authoritarian past towards democracy.

Daw Aung graciously told the audience that it was one of the greatest days of her life, and from the tears in the eyes of the Burmese human rights advocates, expatriates and international visitors who were with us, many of the women dressed in lavender, the signature color of "the Lady," it was quite clear that it was one of the greatest days in their lives, as well.

President Thein Sein of Myanmar addressed a dinner of American business executives in this city near the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat on Friday, inviting them to invest in his impoverished country after an absence of 25 years. The appearance of Mr. Thein Sein, who traveled to Cambodia from his nearby country for the occasion, was the latest sign of a significant warming of relations between the United States and Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country that had been firmly in China’s orbit.

Finally, the success of Myanmar to have a democratic election sends an important message to all of us that soft power diplomacy is not only possible, but can be relied on to deal with conflicts and political turmoil in countries without violence. Various problems that were caused by conflict and political turmoil can be resolved through dialogue, without political and military intervention.

June 13, 2012

Just back from Burma where Voice of America last week signed a breakthrough agreement with Myanmar State Radio, the Office of Strategy and Development’s Doug Boynton reflects on the change…