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Biden administration kicks up pace of sanctions for Myanmar

Geopolitical interests are no small consideration amid growing diplomatic concern over the county's authoritarian rule.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Biden administration is on track to outpace last year's sanctions on Myanmar's military regime as atrocities there, including the genocide of the Rohingya people, attracts growing international attention.

Just four months into 2023, the White House has sanctioned eight people and nine businesses, compared to 16 people and nine businesses for all of 2022.

“We’ll continue to maintain pressure on the Burma military regime to cease its violence and restore the country’s path toward genuine and inclusive democracy,” Deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said of the sanctions at a Thursday briefing, adhering to a U.S. policy where the country is still called by the name that it shed over 30 years ago after the ruling junta brutally suppressed a pro-democracy uprising.

Martin Kifer, a political science professor at High Point University, noted in an interview that the geopolitical balance with China is a key to understanding the increased show of U.S. interest. The U.S. wants to monitor China’s influence in the area, he said, and Myanmar is the least stable country in the region. 

“I don’t think that there are many places in the region where the views of the international community have been as strongly against the government in power as they have been in Myanmar,” Kifer continued.

Earlier this month, responding to airstrikes that killed at least 60 people in Myanmar and injured 30 others, Patel pointed to the attacks as more evidence on "the regime’s disregard for human life.”

“The United States calls on the Burma regime to cease the horrific violence, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and to respect the genuine and inclusive democratic aspirations of the people of Burma,” Patel said.

Patel was critical again this past Monday, responding to "manufactured charges of terrorism," as he called them, that brought a six-year prison sentence for the Rev. Hkalam Samson Samson, an important religious figure to Myanmar's Kachin Christians.

The military, called the Tatmadaw, has ruled Myanmar since 1962. Though the country started a transition to democracy in 2011, recent elections that brought overwhelming victories for the opposition party, National League for Democracy, triggered resistance from the Tatmadaw.

As leader of the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi's influence brought improved relations with Washington. The Obama administration lifted longstanding sanctions in 2016, but Myanmar's worsening treatment of Rohingya Muslims led the Trump administration to reimpose sanctions the following year. 

As sanctions have continued under President Joe Biden, the genocide is said to have caused 25,000 deaths and displaced nearly 1 million people displaced to Bangladesh.

Myanmar's military has claimed it will hold elections again in 2023, but the State Department is skeptical that any vote under the existing political landscape would hold legitimacy.

Only a month ago, Myanmar's military abolished 40 political parties, including the National League for Democracy, whose popularity in the 2020 elections prompted a coup and the arrest of Suu Kyi, whose imprisonment is ongoing.

“The military regime’s decision to dissolve the political parties shows its continued contempt for the popular will of Burma’s people and multi-party democracy,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in response to the elimination of Myanmar's political parties. “The military’s ongoing efforts to stifle political dissent and eradicate civic space are designed to further entrench its own power and interests. This action further demonstrates that the regime’s plans for deeply flawed elections, if held, will not represent the will of Burma’s voters.”

Biden spoke out against Myanmar last month at the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, saying the U.S. stands with the Rohingya people and with the Uyghur Muslims in China.

While it withholds foreign assistance to the Myanmar government, the White House continues to provide funding for humanitarian assistance to the tune of nearly $2.1 billion for Rohingya refugees. The funding has been used to provide access to education, food, clean water and improved sanitation systems.

“An essential step in ending this crisis is ending the military regime’s brutal repression of its people and agreeing to a pathway to an inclusive multiparty democracy,” Blinken said in announcing the latest aid package in March. “We commend our humanitarian partners for the lifesaving work they continue to do every day.”

In the civil war that has broken out in response to Myanmar's 2021 coup, the State Department estimates that nearly 3,000 people have been killed, nearly 17,000 detained and more than 1.5 million displaced. Meanwhile, widespread food and fuel shortages have occurred as part of a widespread economic collapse.

The White House has responded with sanctions on 83 people and 49 business entities tied to the military regime.

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Categories / Government, International, Politics

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