The United States will maintain sanctions against Myanmar while attempting to engage its new leadership, and is concerned about China’s crackdown on dissidents, a senior US official said on Wednesday.
US Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell said Washington would not lift sanctions against Myanmar despite the country’s transition to civilian leadership last month.
“Our general stance in the current environment is, we think it would be inappropriate for the United States to lift sanctions,” he told reporters in Singapore.
“We’re watching and waiting to see how the government is established and whether it will be possible to engage in a productive dialogue with the leadership.”
Pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi was also supportive of US efforts in attempting to engage Myanmar’s new leaders, Campbell said.
“She has encouraged us to attempt to engage and we intend to do so,” said Campbell, who is in Singapore as part of an Asian trip that also includes India and China.
Myanmar’s military junta which had ruled the country for almost half a century — ceded power to a nominally civilian government last week after widely-panned elections in November last year marred by accusations of intimidation and cheating.
Analysts suspect the military retains a firm grip on power in the resource-rich Southeast Asian country, and that former head of the army Than Shwe will attempt to exert control behind the scenes. Campbell said it was too early to ascertain the character of the newly-formed government.
“I think it will be difficult to make any judgments at this stage about the ultimate character of the government,” he said.
Campbell also expressed concern about a huge clampdown on dissent in China following online calls for peaceful “Jasmine” protests inspired by those in the Arab world.
Scores of dissidents, activists and rights lawyers including prominent Chinese artist and outspoken government critic Ai Weiwei have been rounded up in recent weeks as part of a crackdown to quell dissent.
“We have followed the recent arrests and disappearances of a variety of dissidents and civic participants inside China. We are concerned by these arrests and disappearances,” Campbell said.
“We’ve raised our concerns at the highest levels in the Chinese government,” he said, adding that he intends to “underscore” them again with Chinese officials during talks in Beijing on Thursday.
Campbell is visiting Beijing as part of preparations for the second US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in May. –