Reacting to the removal of U.S. sanctions on Burma last Wednesday, two experts on Asia policy say we’re rushing rapprochement. In the Washington Post, Michael Green and Daniel Twining write that the administration rushed this decision through the National Security Council to time a new policy with Clinton’s visit to the region this week:
By publicly splitting with Burma’s democratic opposition on such an important issue, the administration will find that Aung San Suu Kyi no longer provides political cover for U.S. policies. The White House will find itself held more accountable for the Burmese military’s continued violence against ethnic minorities, as well as any nuclear ties with North Korea and the Burmese people’s dashed expectations for lasting political change.
The Great Debate on U.S. foreign policy in Asia is gaining steam, and Burma is drawing more attention than many expected. For years the human rights community owned our Burma policy; as investment diminished and sanctions tightened, the human rights lobby faced less and less opposition.But Burma policy isn’t just about human rights. It’s also about the balance of power in Asia and the development of ASEAN. Now that significant Japanese, Korean, Indian and Thai investment is pouring into the country, it’s a much more important concern for U.S. business as well.U.S. policy toward Burma can’t neglect the issues of democratization and human rights — if only because the stability of the country depends in part on finding some kind of acceptable solution to the ethnic conflicts that rage in much of the country. But as with Vietnam (with which the U.S. maintains good relations despite its undemocratic and sometimes oppressive character), human rights cannot and will not be the only thing Washington considers in moving the relationship forward.One thing the human rights community is very good at is eloquent squeals of pain when its expectations are disappointed. Expect laments to be intoned and hands to be wrung, but one of the implications of the new American approach to Asia is that foreign democracy leaders, however charismatic and sincere, cannot be the only voices we heed in making regional policy. Via Meadia will continue to watch this long game in Burma.