New Delhi (Mizzima) - The United States on Friday said it is reviewing its Burma policy and is looking at various ways to engage the Burmese people.
Gordon Duguid, deputy spokesman of the US state department, during a regular press briefing on Friday told reporters that the US is looking at various ways to make the Burmese military junta change its behaviour.
“Our Burma policy is under review. We are looking at ways in which we can try to affect the leaders in Burma,” Duguid said.
Duguid’s statement came days after the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her Asian tour in Indonesia said the US is considering various ways including lifting of the economic sanctions that it imposed on the Burmese military to better engage with them.
During a press conference in Jakarta, Clinton said, “Clearly, the path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn’t influenced the Burmese junta,” but she also said that the path adopted by Burma’s neighbours of “reaching out and trying to engage them has not influenced them, either.”
She did not deny that that easing sanctions was one of the ideas under consideration by the Obama administration as part of a major policy review, saying “we are looking at possible ideas that can be presented.”
But Duguid, during the press briefing said, “But the goal remains the same in Burma, and that is to have a representative government that responds to the will of the people, and that will needs to be freely expressed.
“So at the moment, is there any change on the U.S. sanction on the Burmese regime? No, there is not,” he added in response to a question raised.
The United States joined by the European Union have imposed economic sanctions on Burma’s military rulers for its reluctance to implement political reforms and its appalling human rights record.
The US in July 2008, strengthened its sanction by passing the JADE – Junta Anti-Democratic Efforts - in response to the junta’s brutal repression of monk-led protests in September 2007, where at least 30 people were killed and hundreds of monks and activists arrested.
The US’s indication of reviewing its Burma policy and admitting the ineffectiveness of economic sanctions came at a time when critics and observers are divided in two schools of thought over the effectiveness of sanctions.
Derek Tonkin, a former British Ambassador to Thailand and a long time observer of Burmese politics, said sanctions missed the target but further polarised the junta. And it has also caused unintended consequences to the general population and caused stagnation in the living standard of the people.
In an interview with Mizzima, Tonkin said, “Sanctions have not achieved the main purpose, which is to induce the regime to change its policy and to introduce political reform.”
He said, while it might not be the best to totally lift sanctions, as it would mean a reward without an effort for the military rulers, the EU or the US could definitely remove some of the individuals from the blacklist, as they have been randomly included without proper assessment.
The US and EU has maintained a list of individuals, whom they feel are benefiting from the ruling junta and are providing financial assistance to it and imposed a ban on travel and frozen their assets.
Tonkin said, “Many of the individuals included in the blacklist are strong supporters of the NLD,” referring to Burma’s main opposition party – National League for Democracy.
But he said, while it would not be pragmatic to totally lift the sanctions, there should be a different approach to bring changes in the country.
Similarly, Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese analyst based in Thailand, in an earlier interview with Mizzima said, sanctions are political tools and are meant to bring behavioural changes in the junta but it has missed its objectives.
He said, with regional countries including India, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member, continuing to engage the junta, sanctions are not bringing the desired political changes.
He added that it would be wise to reconsider the sanction policy on Burma and move on with a much more concerted effort instead of merely imposing sanctions.
More concerted efforts
Benedict Rogers of the Christian Solidarity Worldwide, who has been following on Burma’s human rights, said the international community should increase diplomatic and political efforts to bring changes in Burma.
Talking to Mizzima, Rogers said, “A combination of increased diplomatic and political efforts by the international community led by the United Nations is needed.”
He also said, so far the international community has failed to send a strong message to the Burmese junta that their behavioural changes could result in lifting certain sanctions.
“I think the regime at the moment thinks that whatever they do, sanctions are going to stay, therefore, they won’t do anything,” Rogers said.
“But if we can link sanctions to progress then it could work. I don’t think sanctions should be lifted unconditionally, the regime needs to take the first step,” he added.
Aye Thar Aung, a veteran ethnic politician in Rangoon, said sanctions are not called by the Burmese people and it solely depends on the countries that imposed it.
But, he said, sanctions or no sanctions, the international community should increase its efforts in bringing change in Burma.
“It is not for us to say whether there should be sanctions or not, but definitely an increased effort by the international community is needed,” said Aye Thar Aung, who is also secretary of the Committee Representing the Peoples’ Parliament (CRPP), a group formed with members of elected MPs of the 1990 election.
While to an extent, observers and critics agree on sanctions’ failure to induce behavioural change in the regime, there seems to be no unanimous answer on how best to deal with the Burmese junta.
Andrew Selth, a research fellow at Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University, during a talk in early February at New Delhi’s ‘Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies’ on “Burma and the Limits of International Influence” said the international community needs to understand the mindset of the junta while dealing with the junta.
Selth, an expert on regional security said, there are only limited international influences over theBurmese regime and even China, which is considered the closest ally of the regime, only has limited influence.
According to him, understanding the mindset and viewing it from the junta’s point of view could be helpful in trying to help bring changes in the country.
Burma, as portrayed by the international media as a rogue country may be true but the regime running the show from Naypyitaw, Burma’s new jungle capital about 300 km north of Rangoon, are smart enough to play international politics, Selth said.
Selth said getting in to the junta’s shoes and thinking from their point of view could help understand how best to approach the military regime, that rules Burma for nearly half a century.
Some of the information is contributed by Nem Davies