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U.S. may draw flak for curbs on Mya

Subject:       U.S. may draw flak for curbs on Myanmar

U.S. may draw flak for curbs on Myanmar

by Sridhar Krishnaswami
WASHINGTON, April 23. In a move that highlights the
compulsions of domestic politics rather than the
substance of American foreign policy, the Clinton
administration on Tuesday decided to impose "sanctions"
on Myanmar citing the continued "repression" by the
Yangon regime. On his way to inspect flood damage in
North Dakota, the President, Mr. Bill Clinton, said:
"Beyond its abysmal human rights record, Burma
(Myanmar) remains the world's leading producer of opium
and heroin. The United States and other members of the
international community have firmly and repeatedly
taken steps to encourage democratization and human
rights in Burma." The State Department has clarified
that an Executive Order will be signed soon to
formalise the decision. Mr. Clinton was acting within
the confines of a 1996 legislation that required the
White House to impose sanctions on Myanmar in the event
of "large scale repression or violence" against the
country's democratic opposition. Announcing the
President's decision, the Secretary of State, Ms.
Madeleine Albright, argued that the new measures would
deal a further blow to investor confidence in the South
East Asian Nation. In fact, at a speech at the Naval
Academy last week, Ms. Albright had hinted that
sanctions were round the corner. Interestingly, the
U.S. has placed a ban on new investments in Myanmar.
Unlike as in other instances where Washington has on
the books the measures to "punish" foreign countries
and individuals dealing with so-called rogue nations,
the Clinton administration's sting against Myanmar does
not have such provision. the administration also
appears to have conveniently skirted the exiting
investments. The U.S. is the fourth largest investor in
Myanmar, with the UNOCAL Corporation alone having a
$1.2 billion-partnership with the TOTAL of France for
exploring and developing natural gas fields off the
coast. The issue is not whether the Clinton
administration has identified Myanmar correctly as a
repressive regime. Washington does not have to certify
Myanmar, for the whole world knows enough about the
ways of State Law and Order Restoration council
(SLORC). But the Clinton administration is adopting
double standards in its dealings with Myanmar and
believes that sanctions will work only with Myanmar. In
some ways, the administration is setting itself up for
criticism from members of Congress who will now be
asking why the same sanctions cannot be used to bring
around China. The answer is evident, but it will not be
spelt out in public. Myanmar is a small country with
limited economic opportunities, as opposed to China
which can respond to sanctions by turning to the Airbus
Industries of Europe instead of to the Boeing
Corporation. Also some officials and analysts will
argue that in the case of China there is a strategic
angle that has to be taken into consideration and
implying, in the process, that Myanmar will not warrant
such a consideration. That this is flawed is evident
from the rationalization by America's allies in the
Asia Pacific which do not wish to push for the
sanctions route. But it will be presumptuous for
Washington to assume that its allies in South East Asia
or Japan are going to be somehow "encouraged" by the
sanctions move. Within the U.S. organizations such as
the USA-Engage are labelling the sanctions as a serious
error, in that unilateral sanctions isolated a country
from American influence. In the last four years. it is
pointed out. the U.S. has imposed 61 unilateral trade
sanctions on 35 countries at a cost of about $20
billion a year in lost exports and 250.000 export-
related jobs. Even as the Clinton administration is
giving the impression of tightening the screws on
Yangon, South East Asia is getting ready to welcome
Myanmar formally into the Larger political and economic
network, Association of South East Asian Nations. And
Japan, which has been playing a quiet role in bringing
Yangon around, is more interested in the Myanmar-China
connection, especially as it has to do with the concern
over shipping lanes in and around the Andamans and the
Coco Islands. And what has made things easier for the
administration to talk about "future" investments is
that companies like Pepsico have come away from
Myanmar. besides, several state governments in the U.S.
have started independently legislating against
companies doing business with the brass hats in Yangon.
In face, one argument has been that the Clinton
administration rushed in with its Myanmar sanctions
idea because a Bill is to be introduced next week on
the issue. The apprehension in the White House could
well be that this legislation will require sanctions to
be seen in a broader perspective and not narrowly
confined to banning "future" investments.