U.S. Policy Toward Burma
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs
April 26, 2012
Mr. Chairman, Senator Inhofe, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you very much for inviting me here today to testify about U.S. policy toward Burma and the remarkable developments that have been unfolding in the country. Many Members of this Committee and in the Congress have been key proponents of human rights and democracy in Burma over the past two decades, and I am sure you all are following events with as much hope and interest as we do at the State Department.
We have been the first to acknowledge that engagement with Burmese authorities early in this Administration was a profound disappointment. We expected that it would be a long and slow process, but the lack of progress from late 2009 to mid-2011 was nevertheless disheartening.
As some have said, “That was then, this is now.” Following the formation of a new government in March 2011, positive changes have emerged ranging from the release of political prisoners, to new legislation expanding the rights of political and civic association, and a nascent process toward ceasefires with several ethnic armed groups. Secretary Clinton has become actively involved, including her historic visit to Burma in December 2011, where she met senior Burmese government officials including President Thein Sein and opposition democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been an inspiration to many around the world, including the Secretary, for her steadfast efforts to bring a more free and prosperous life to her people. She also met with a variety of civil society and ethnic minority representatives.
Because of President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s far-sighted leadership and the hard work of our first Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma, Ambassador Derek Mitchell, the Burmese government has engaged with the United States in candid and constructive exchanges, leading toward concrete progress on our core concerns over the past nine months.
In both its words and actions, Burmese officials have demonstrated increasing signs of interest in political, economic, and social development, and national reconciliation. Although we assess this nascent opening as real and significant, we also believe it is fragile and reversible – as Secretary Clinton said on April 4, “the future in Burma is neither clear nor certain” —and therefore, we need to carefully calibrate our approach to encourage continued progress. Additionally, the impact of Burma’s reform efforts has not extended far beyond the capital and major cities. This is particularly true in ethnic minority areas: Fighting continues in Kachin State, coupled with reports of severe human rights violations. In Rakhine State systematic discrimination and denial of human rights against ethnic Rohingya remains deplorable. Overall, the legacy of five decades of military rule --repressive laws, a pervasive security apparatus, a corrupt judiciary, and media censorship -- is still all too present.
The initial reforms are only the beginning of a sustained process and commitment required to bring Burma back into the international community and toward more representative and responsive democratic governance.