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U.S reluctant to get tough with Mya

Subject: U.S reluctant to get tough with Myanmar (The Hindu, 7/4/97)

U.S. reluctant to get tough with Myanmar
7/4/97, The Hindu (New Delhi)

By Sridhar Krishnaswami


According to a media report, the Clinton administration is unlikely to
go the distance and impose sanctions against the regime in Myanmar even
if the track record on human rights and controlling drug trafficking may
have taken a turn for the worse in that country. It is said that the
President, Mr. Bill Clinton, is yet to make up his mind. with part of
the internal debate suggesting that there is little point in Washington
turning the screws on Yangon without international backing. But there
are those in the administration and in the Congress who are for a
get-tough policy vis-a-vis Myanmar.

While the President may not be ready to take the sanctions route at this
point of lime, unnamed officials of the administration are quoted as
saying he may be considering an "up ward slope of pressure" strategy
against the State Law and Order Restoration Council, which would include
additional steps and fresh deadlines.

Last year Congress passed a law giving the President the discretion to
ban fresh American investments in Myanmar if it was determined that the
brass hats there physically harmed or re-arrested the top dissident, Ms.
Aung San Suu Kyi, or committed large-scale violence or acts of
repression against the democratic Opposition.

If Mr. Clinton does not measure up to the expectations of both Democrats
and Republicans, it is bound to be seen as yet another instance of the
administration caving into the likes and dislikes of dictatorships. The
bipartisan view in Congress is that things have got from bad to worse in
Myanmar since the time legislation was passed. with the SLORC coming
down hard against Monks in Mandalay besides resuming the military
offensive against the Karen rebels on the border. In a political sense
it is being here that the freedom of Ms. Suu Kyi continue to be
restricted; and the regime has precipitated the situation by resorting
to mass arrests of pro-democracy activists.

There a number of angles to the administrations internal debate on
Myanmar but there is little to indicate that Mr. Clinton or any of his
senior officials are being swayed by the strategic dimension to the
Myanmar problem which is to be seen In the larger context of the Asia
Pacific and South East Asia. In fact it could be argued depth of the
internal debate is not even swayed lay economic factors. American
companies have been by and large pulling out of Myanmar and some of it
having to do with pressures on the domestic front and in a fear of
setting off a storm of protests on university campuses.

If the Clinton administration is holding back. the reasons have to be
political. First, few in the administration are under any illusions of
the SLORC responding to a deadline threat. These have not worked in the
past and are unlikely to do so in the future. Deadlines from the U.S.
will come and go, and the administration Will he faced with a situation
of having to respond to noncompliance in a weak fashion which will have
very little impact to the "democracy" environment in Myanmar. Secondly,
in the recent past, the U.S. has found out how much support it could
garner from allies to push a "democratic" cause. The case in point is
Cuba where the Helms-Burton Bill has been scorned upon by Europeans and
Canada with the result that Mr. Clinton has been issuing waivers to the
legislation and in the process making no one happy either the allies or
the Conservatives in Congress.

In the case of Myanmar, the US. knows how far the sanctions approach
will hold good in the Asia Pacific. It is not as if the region is taking
sides with an authoritarian set-up in Yangon; rather it is in one of
having to come to terms with realities on the ground. East and
South-East Asia have important economic links with Myanmar; and are more
in tune strategically than the U.S. is. The last thing that the region
wants is Myanmar being further pushed into the arms of China. creating a
strategic environment that no one wants even if few are willing to talk
about this in public.

The nations in the Asia-Pacific while talking about constrictive
engagement are actually taking a leaf out of the Western notebook,
particularly that of the U.S. and Britain. For more than a decade the
West was arguing that the only way to deal with the vile and shameful
system of racial discrimination in South Africa was through a process of
constructive engagement. And heading to the 21st Century, the Clinton
administration is making the point that the only way to case the
political environment in China is through increased trade and dialogue.
What is wrong with the same approach vis-a-vis Myanmar?