Myanmar: US to upgrade diplomatic relations following release of political prisoners

Updated On: Jan 16, 2012

Following Myanmar’s cease-fire with the Karen rebels, Myanmar’s government stayed true to its word and released an estimate of 300 political prisoners last Friday. Former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt and well-known Shan ethnic leader Khun Tun Oo were amongst those released. This move is the latest taken by the government in its effort to reform the country, and was strongly lauded by the United States and the European Union.

U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton has agreed that the U.S will be taking steps to upgrade or even restore full diplomatic ties with Myanmar. To begin with, both countries will exchange ambassadors for the first time in two decades. Clinton believes that an American ambassador will strengthen the U.S.’s efforts to support Myanmar revolution. Further measures to improve relations will be taken by the U.S. should the by-election to be held on 1 April goes well, if the Myanmar government continues to make progress in its reform, and if it initiates the release of other political prisoners.

Possible outcomes

One of the major possible implications of Myanmar’s release of its most recent batch of prisoners is the lifting of sanctions on Myanmar by the U.S., the EU and Australia, although talks of sanctions are generally on hold at the moment.

The U.S., which currently has imposed sanctions in the form of visa bans, restrictions of financial services and probations of goods imported from Myanmar, for instance, has not said specifically whether sanctions will be lifted. Despite this, it has been clearly expressed by U.S. President Barack Obama that the “United States is committed to continuing [their] engagement” even though “much more remains to be done [by the Myanmar government] to meet the aspiration of the Burmese people”. On account of this, a U.S. official has said that a top State Department official will be sent to Myanmar in the near future to discuss issues such as its missile purchases from North Korea.

Australia, on the other hand, had already committed to removing financial sanctions and travel restrictions on some of Myanmar’s tourism officials and former government ministers last Monday, but may review its sanctions again in light of the latest release of prisoners. In a statement made by Australian foreign minister Kevin Rudd, Australia hopes “positive developments, such as the increased participation of opposition parties in the political process, the release of around 220 political prisoners, and new labor laws that will legalize trade unions, will continue. In this context, [Australia] will keep our approach to sanctions under review.” Rudd also deemed the release of prisoners to be a “very important step” for Myanmar.

Meanwhile, France’s foreign minister Alain Juppe has also spoken on behalf of France and the EU, saying that they “will respond positively” to the prisoner release, but did not clarify whether this will mean an easing of sanctions. He will be meeting with Myanmar’s President Thein Sein today to discuss what actions can be taken.

Report: Clinton Moves to Upgrade Myanmar Ties After Prisoners Released, (Bloomberg, 15 January 2012)

Report: Myanmar Frees More Political Prisoners, U.S. Lauds Move, (Reuters, 13 January 2012)

Report: US To Send Ambassador to Myanmar, Restoring Full Diplomatic Ties as Reward for Reforms, (Washington Post, 14 January 2012)

Report: Obama, Clinton Hail Freeing of Prominent Political Prisoners, (The Wall Street Journal, 14 January 2012)

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