Careful not to play into the hands of the junta

Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell, met with Aung San Suu Kyi and senior uncles of the disbanded National League for Democracy on Monday. This is his second trip to Burma since the beginning of Obama’s administration’s new policy of engagement with the Burmese junta. He also met and talked to a few senior military generals. No reports have come out over the details of these meetings. But it takes no further reporting to know that Mr. Campbell found the situation in Burma to have changed very little, if not for worse, since his first visit. During his stay in Burma, Mr. Campbell said that the U.S. administration was deeply “troubled by the recent political developments in Myanmar that had led to the dissolution of the NLD.” He also expressed his skepticism towards the upcoming elections, stating “What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy.”

The lack of any desirable progress in Burma even ahead of the general elections should be enough to make the U.S. policy makers rethink about the effectiveness of the administration’s recent engagement strategy towards Burma. While this policy of engagement certainly have strong points and many desirable expectations, it is highly important that the Obama administration maintains its practicality and only continues to engage “strategically” with the regime. In other words, the U.S. engagement with the Burmese regime should be strictly contingent upon conditions such as if the regime fails to meet the expectations set forth by the U.S. and the international community, then the engagement should be replaced or reinforced with stronger measures such as targeted financial sanctions.

“The U.S. must ensure that its policies do not inadvertently support or encourage authoritarian and corrupt elements in Burmese society,” a note of warning by the members of Asia Society Task Force who recently published a full report and recommendations for the U.S. policy towards Burma. This is particularly critical at a time like now in Burma where the military regime is attempting to legitimize itself via its sham elections and an undemocratic constitution.

With the knowledge that it cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the 1990 general elections in which the people of Burma voted overwhelmingly for Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party, the NLD, the military government is tightening its repressive grip. A few days ago, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported that the ruling junta is now going to enact anti-terror laws, which will justify any future crackdown on political activists and ethnic minorities who refuse to be remain silent over the regime’s injustices.

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