Wed 29 Jun 2011
Filed under: International
The United States is prepared to have a positive relationship with Myanmar and seeks better international coordination in encouraging democratic reform in the Asian country, the nominee to be U.S. special envoy said Wednesday.
Derek Mitchell, who is currently a senior defense official for Asia-Pacific affairs, said that the inability of key members of the international community to coordinate their approach had undermined their efforts to press the government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, to free political prisoners and hold dialogue with its opponents.
While signaling willingness to improve U.S.-Myanmar ties, Mitchell was critical of Myanmar’s claims to have made a transition to civilian rule after elections last year, saying its political system falls far short of representative democracy.
“Burma remains a country at war with itself and distrustful of others,” Mitchell said at a confirmation hearing before a Senate panel. “Burma is the poorest country in Southeast Asia and a source of great concern and potential instability in the region.”
His comments came as Myanmar’s government warned pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi against engaging in political activities, and issued a thinly veiled threat ahead of her planned first tour outside the main city Yangon since her release from house arrest seven months ago. A commentary in state newspapers Wednesday said the trip could trigger riots and chaos.
John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the appointment of the special envoy offers Myanmar’s leaders an opportunity to redefine their relationship with the United States.
“I and others will be watching to see whether Burma’s government is interested in a path towards peace and democracy or whether it remains anchored to the failed policies of the past. A critical upcoming test will be Aung San Suu Kyi’s ability to speak freely and move about the country,” Kerry said.
In the past year-and-a-half, the Obama administration has shifted from a policy of isolating Myanmar generals to engaging them. That has not yielded the desired results: the release of the more than 2,000 political prisoners and a government dialogue with Suu Kyi, whose party has been de-registered after it boycotted the November elections.
Myanmar came under military rule in 1962 and has brutally suppressed political dissent since then. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy swept 1990 elections but was barred from taking power.
If confirmed, Mitchell said he would seek a “candid dialogue” with the government and would respond “flexibly” to evolving conditions there. But he said that the government had not yet taken steps to merit lifting sanctions – a step which Myanmar’s neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have been calling for since the flawed poll.
Mitchell said he would coordinate with international partners including ASEAN, India, China, Europe, South Korea and Japan, to see if they can “find ways to come together with a more coherent approach” in dealing with Myanmar.
Mitchell said it was “absolutely critical” that Myanmar abide by U.N. nonproliferation sanctions that bar military trade with North Korea. His comments reflected international concern that Pyongyang could have exported missile technology to Myanmar, and that Myanmar’s rulers may have nuclear ambitions.