Senator Jim Webb, whose historic trip to Burma in 2009 set the stage for a new direction in U.S. policy toward that country, today pressed the Administration to take proactive steps--consistent with U.S. trade policies with other countries--in order to sustain Burma's political reforms. Senator Webb made his remarks while presiding over a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of Ambassador Derek Mitchell to be Ambassador to Burma.
"Three years ago, when I visited Burma in August 2009, I can safely say that few were considering this prospect," said Senator Webb of the normalization of diplomatic relations with Burma. "While much needs to be done to solidify this transition, the combined efforts of President Thein Sein and MP Aung San Suu Kyi have moved the country forward toward promised democracy."
"If we do not act, proactively and soon, we will lose a critical window of opportunity to influence development of financial governance inside Burma," said Senator Webb. "It is critical to implement the decisions that have been announced and continue to ease additional sanctions, such as the ban on imports."
"It is time to make our policies internationally consistent with our principles," said Senator Webb, noting that different standards in our trade policy have been applied to China and Vietnam than Burma. "China's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiabo, remains incarcerated-- as opposed to Aung San Suu Kyi. China has no free elections. Yet, no one is advocating at this time that we impose economic sanctions on China . Concerns about censorship of the media, restrictions on the freedom of religion, or detention of political prisoners have not prompted the United States to restrict our trade with Vietnam."
"This is not to single out China or Vietnam for opprobrium; it is simply to point out the need for consistency in the logic of those who argue for overly punitive restrictions as we develop our relations with Burma," said Senator Webb. "We should never take our concerns about political freedoms or individual rights off the table. Rather, we should make these concerns central to our engagement with all countries, including with Burma. But we should also be promoting economic progress to sustain the political reforms that have taken place."
Citing recent public statements by Aung Sang Suu Kyi that countries should not invest in Burma's state-owned oil company until it adheres to voluntary international standards, Senator Webb asked whether "an official from any foreign government should be telling us what sectors that we should invest in and not invest in." He noted that the United States does not require other countries to endorse such standards as a prerequisite for investment and affirmed that "the United States sets the standards of transparency of our own business environment."
Senator Webb said that he expected Ambassador Mitchell to be confirmed by the full Senate later this week.