HONOLULU (Reuters) - Myanmar appears to be making some “real changes” to its political system but the United States wants to see more reform before embracing the country formerly known as Burma, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday.
“It appears that there are real changes taking place on the ground and we support these early efforts at reform,” Clinton told a news conference at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Hawaii.
Clinton noted reports of “substantive dialogue” between the government and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and changes to the Southeast Asian country’s laws on labor and political party registration.
“We want to see the people of Burma able to participate fully in the political life of their own country. But we know that there must be much more done,” she said.
The United States, Europe and Australia have said allowing political prisoners to go free is essential before they can lift sanctions that have crippled Myanmar’s economy and driven it closer to China.
The United States has had strained relations with Myanmar since the military junta, which took power in a 1962 coup, killed thousands in a brutal crackdown in 1988. Washington and its allies have imposed a wide range of economic sanctions and travel bans on top officials in the country.
In a major policy speech in Honolulu on Thursday, Clinton raised the prospect that the United States could be a partner to Myanmar, whose long-time military rulers nominally handed power in March to a civilian government that introduced some reforms.
“Many questions remain, including the government’s continued detention of political prisoners and whether reform will be sustained and extended to include peace and reconciliation in the ethnic minority areas,” Clinton said in her speech.
“Should the government pursue genuine and lasting reform for the benefit of all its citizens, it will find a partner in the United States,” she said.
Clinton and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd held talks on Thursday on the sidelines of the APEC forum, and Myanmar was among the topics discussed. “Both underscored that we thought that some of the changes taking place were real and significant,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Michael Posner, the State Department’s top human rights official, and Derek Mitchell, Washington’s special envoy for Myanmar, visited the country last week and pledged more U.S. help as it seeks to shake off its pariah status.
The U.S. officials stressed that while they welcomed Myanmar’s recent decision to free some 200 political prisoners, they still wanted to see the release of all dissidents and implementation of promised reforms allowing the registration of new political parties, independent unions and freedom of assembly in the country.
Myanmar is not part of the 21-member APEC grouping, which mainly focuses on boosting trans-Pacific trade and investment.
But the country is expected to take part in the East Asian Summit meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali later in November. Both Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama will attend the Bali gathering.
Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Paul Tait