The Obama administration will not rush to lift sanctions on Myanmar, a top State Department official said Wednesday.
Democratic reforms undertaken by the military-backed government are “fragile and reversible,” and the treatment of ethnic minorities is “reprehensible,” Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. “There is no intention to lift sanctions.”
“In certain areas, we will seek to ease sanctions by using executive authority, but we would intend to do that in close consultation with key players on Capitol Hill,” he added. “The kind of sanctions-easing we have in mind will actually assist reforms rather than undermine them.”
Mr. Campbell said there is a risk that a country like Myanmar, which has very little infrastructure, could get “overwhelmed by outside engagement.”
The Obama administration has identified making peace with ethnic militias as a key condition for lifting sanctions on Myanmar.
Myanmar’s government has signed cease-fire agreements with various ethnic rebel militias. However, its troops continue to fight rebels in the northern Kachin state, near the border with China.
Rep. Donald Manzullo, Illinois Republican and subcommittee chairman, questioned the Myanmar’s commitment to reform.
“The question that we face today is whether the activities of the past year represent real reform or modest window dressing,” said Mr. Manzullo. “Have our European and Asian allies gone too far by rushing headlong into suspending all sanctions and immediately boosting assistance?”
Myanmar’s government has taken steps to relax media censorship and implement economic reforms.
Dramatic changes are taking place in Myanmar, but these are “fragile and reversible,” Mr. Campbell said. “We are at the very beginning stages of a process that will demand intense American engagement.”
For the first time in 20 years, Myanmar’s government allowed opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to participate in parliamentary by-elections on April 1. Her National League for Democracy party won 43 of the 44 seats it contested.
The new parliament convened Monday, but Mrs. Suu Kyi and other members of her party were not present because they oppose wording in the parliamentary oath that commits them to “safeguard the constitution.”
The opposition wants to amend the constitution, which guarantees the military a quarter of the seats in the lower house of parliament and one-third in the upper house.