Myanmar is witnessing “dramatic developments” and the U.S. stands ready to revamp ties with the Southeast Asian nation, a top state department official said.
“We are prepared for a new chapter in our relations,” Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for Asia, said today after a speech in Bangkok. “We are watching carefully developments on the ground and I think it would be fair to say that we will match their steps with comparable steps.”
The government in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, came to power in an election last year after five decades of military rule. President Thein Sein has held talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from detention 11 months ago, and suspended the construction of a $3.6 billion dam being built with China since taking power.
The U.S. has concerns about Myanmar’s detention of more than 2,000 political prisoners, a lack of dialogue with ethnic groups and past relations with North Korea, Campbell said. Still, recent developments “demand greater attention and focus,” he said.
“It’s too early, too soon, to make any final judgments, but at the same time it’s also too soon to dismiss them as well,” he said. “We are in the midst of a deep diplomatic process.”
Suu Kyi said Sept. 21 she was “cautiously optimistic” of progress in her native land, where she has spent 15 of the past 22 years under house arrest. “We are beginning to see the beginning of change,” she said via satellite during a seminar in New York organized by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
The military retains a quarter of seats in the two houses of Parliament, according to the constitution. Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party, backed by the former ruling junta, won about 80 percent of seats in last year’s election, which was boycotted by Suu Kyi’s party.
The U.S. maintains trade and financial sanctions against Myanmar. Europe has less stringent restrictions in place.
“The process of what goes on behind the scenes still remains a mystery to us,” Campbell said today, adding that several people consider Thein Sein “a very serious interlocutor and prepared to engage differently.”