New Delhi (Mizzima) - Accepting the failure of sanctions to usher in political change, the Burmese opposition and analysts said, the new US policy on the Southeast Asian nation could be the right approach but warned that the military junta could use it to its advantage, as it is not flawless.
The United States on Monday said, under its new Burma policy, it would seek direct engagement with the military rulers of Burma, but would continue with sanctions that can be phased out or tightened based on events inside Burma.
“In principle, this is a good policy. As sanctions or engagement alone have failed to bring change, we would like to hope that the combination of both might bring some change,” Win Min, an academic at the Chiang Mai University in Thailand and a long time Burma observer, said.
Similarly, a senior member of the National League for Democracy, Win Tin, said, while the US decides its policy, the new approach seems to be on the right track as it strikes a balance between engagement and punishment.
“We, the NLD, have been proposing engagement with the junta for the past 20 years, and so we welcome the US’s policy of engagement. We believe things could change through engagement,” Win Tin, a central executive committee member of the NLD, said.
Following US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s preview of the Burma policy at the United Nations, detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, through her party spokesperson, said she welcomed the policy of engagement but urged the US to engage both the junta and the opposition, including ethnic minorities.
Win Tin said while he agrees with party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, “I would like to add that the US should demand that the junta start a dialogue with us - the opposition.”
He said the US’s engagement with the junta is not enough because if political change is to come to Burma, dialogue between internal players must be the starting point and the US should see that the junta is on the right track for conducting such dialogues as the start of the process of national reconciliation.
While the new US policy garners some support as it incorporates the ‘Carrot and Stick’, method, Win Tin warned the US not to allow the junta to take advantage of the engagement and to court them in their playground but to stand firm on its principles.
“The junta, as we have seen in the past, is very smart in playing so the US must stand firm on its principles and not allow the junta to play with them,” he said.
He said, even if the sanctions are to be lifted, the list of targeted people such as the generals, their close relatives and business cronies should be kept as the last card to be cast on the table.
“Because sanctions do have an impact, as it is obvious, the junta really wants to come out of sanctions, and this is a good point for the US to push the generals to implement change,” he added.
Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, in his speech at the UN General Assembly on Monday, said sanctions are ‘unjust’ and that certain countries are using sanctions as a political tool. He urged the international community to pressurize countries imposing sanctions on Burma to lift it.
Aware of the Generals’ fear, Aung San Suu Kyi on Saturday sent a letter to Snr. Gen Than Shwe, offering to work with him in order to help ease the sanctions imposed by the West.
In her letter, she requested a meeting with the Charge d’Affairs of the US embassy, Ambassadors of the European Union and Australia, to discuss the sanctions and to understand their stance on Burma.
However, Nyan Win, her party spokesperson, said, so far there has been no response from Naypyitaw on Aung San Suu Kyi’s proposal.
According to Win Min, the junta is currently looking ahead of the 2010 elections and its legitimacy, which can be gained if the international community endorses it. The US sanctions, therefore, remain a big obstacle for it and the regime is trying all it can to ease this pressure.
“We will have to wait and see how the junta responds to the new US policy. But there is always a possibility that the junta would want to use the US to support them in their plan,” Win Min said.
“Though nothing is clear, one thing is certain that the junta does not want to give up its rule and wants to legitimize its role through the road-map,” he added.
According to the junta’s seven-step roadmap to democracy, the general elections scheduled for 2010 is the fifth step and will give life to the 2008 constitution, which according to the junta was approved by over 90 per cent of voters.
The elections would be followed by convening of the Parliament and forming the cabinet, all of which will be based on the 2008 constitution, which critics said will legitimize the role of the military.
“The junta wants to see the 2010 elections going through smoothly, as it is an important step in legitimizing the role of the military,” said Win Tin. He added that winning the support of the US plays an important role for the success of the elections.
Besides, the junta’s interest in wanting the US to endorse its planned roadmap, it is also widely seen that the junta wants to use the US to balance China. Win Tin said, this could give the junta a much larger space to play in as it already has India to pit against China.
According to the International Crisis Group (ICG) report titled “China’s Myanmar Dilemma” released in mid-September, Burma’s failure to implement socio-political changes has become a burden for China, which as the closest ally had defended the Burmese military junta in the international fora.
The Burmese junta, according to analysts, is also aware of the Chinese attitude towards it and understands that it cannot forever remain under the protection of China. The junta needs alternative support base, including neighbouring countries such as India.
“In the larger context, the junta might want to pit China against the US. And diversify its support and not depend only on the Chinese,” Win Tin said.
“Now with India already backing it, the junta would want the US to have a good relationship with it,” he added.