Burma: The U.S. Can't Act Alone

Six years have elapsed since Nobel prizewinner Aung San Suu Kyi and her party won a democratic election in Burma but were prevented from taking power by the military. Suu Kyi spent most of those years under house arrest. Then, last summer, pressure from Japan secured her release. As a consequence, foreign investment began to pour into Burma. But on May 26, as she tried to convene a party congress in Rangoon, more than 260 of Suu Kyi's supporters were arrested by the military junta. Today in Burma, there is no free press, no freedom of assembly, no basic human rights.

The situation is so bad that Japan and Thailand, who rarely criticize their neighbors in public, openly condemned the crackdown and called for the release of political prisoners. This is to be applauded. The junta is still courting foreign corporations, however. About $1 billion worth of approved projects are under way, and millions of dollars from those investments are being pocketed by the generals.

Trade sanctions are now being considered by the U.S. Congress and the White House to protest the recent military actions. But they will be useless unless other economic powers with large stakes in Burma, especially Japan, join with the U.S. to urge reform on the military. If corporate competitors rush in to fill the void U.S. businesses leave behind, the junta will not act. Japanese and European companies investing in Burma need to make clear to the military that they cannot do business in the country while Suu Kyi's followers remain in jail. The Burmese people have already voted for a democratic form of government. Burma should not be open for business until it grants its citizens the most basic human freedoms.

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