Wed 23 Jan 2013
Filed under: International,Military,News
Australia will consider restoring defence relations with Myanmar to help promote democratic reform in that country. The move would mark the most significant step so far in the normalisation of relations with Myanmar after Canberra lifted targeted travel and financial sanctions last year.
Myanmar is being progressively brought in from the cold by Western nations following the inauguration of a civilian government in 2011 and the subsequent release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
A draft copy of the 2013 Defence white paper obtained by The Australian reveals that defence relations with Myanmar may be restored for the first time since Canberra cut military ties with the military dictatorship that ruled for 22 years.
“The government will consider developing modest defence relations with Myanmar consistent with steps by the international community and in a manner which supports the political reform agenda in that country,” the draft blueprint says.
A Defence spokesman declined to comment directly on the revelation yesterday, except to say that Australia’s policy of limited defence engagement with Myanmar remained unchanged.
The final version of the white paper will be released by mid-year.
Australia withdrew its resident defence attache to Myanmar in 1979 and the only bilateral defence contact is limited to periodic visits by the defence attache based in Bangkok, who is cross-accredited.
Australia maintains an arms embargo introduced in 1991, which prevents providing advice, assistance or training to the Myanmarese military.
Since 2011, the government of President Thein Sein has released hundreds of political prisoners, held peace talks with armed ethnic groups and eased restrictions on political participation, free speech and freedom of assembly.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr lifted targeted travel and financial sanctions on Myanmar last year to encourage further reform from Naypyidaw. He said Australia would step up its engagement through advice on elections and government structures and support in building an effective foreign investment regime.
“I am heartened by Myanmar’s continued progress towards democratic and economic reform,” he said.
Australian aid to Myanmar will more than double to $100 million per year by 2015, with a focus on education and basic healthcare in remote and regional centres.
British Defence Minister Phil Hammond told The Australian last week he would appoint a full-time defence attache to Myanmar in April because the best way to engage the Myanmarese military was through their overseas defence counterparts.
“Building military-to-military relations, we think, is part of the narrative towards encouraging the Burmese military to become a normal military and get out of politics and get back to the barracks,” he said.
Since her release, Ms Suu Kyi has been elected to Myanmar’s parliament and has met with US President Barack Obama. The US has partially eased sanctions on Myanmar, but has left some in place, hedging against what outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the threat of “backsliding” by hardline elements.