by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Dec 1, 2011
China called Thursday for international sanctions against key ally Myanmar to be lifted, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a historic visit to the isolated nation.
Myanmar has surprised observers with a series of reformist moves in the past year -- including shutting down work on a controversial dam project backed by Beijing -- leading to speculation it is trying to diversify its foreign policy.
But China, the primary supporter of the junta and the military-dominated civilian government that succeeded it after controversial elections last year, has given a cautious welcome to Myanmar's moves to engage with the West.
On Thursday, as Clinton held landmark talks with Myanmar's rulers, China's foreign ministry called for sweeping sanctions on the military-backed government to be lifted.
"We believe that Western countries and Myanmar should enhance contact and improve relations on the basis of equality and mutual respect," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told journalists at a regular briefing.
"We also maintain that relevant nations should lift their sanctions against Myanmar and promote Myanmar's stability and development."
The United States has said that Clinton will seek progress on human rights, including on the treatment of ethnic minorities, during her visit, but that talk of lifting sanctions on Myanmar is "premature".
"The secretary's visit is in part to add momentum to what's taken place and to explore what's going forward but there are no plans right now to lift sanctions," White House official Ben Rhodes said last week.
President Barack Obama announced last month at an East Asia Summit in Bali that Clinton would become the first US secretary of state to visit Myanmar in 50 years after the country's government undertook reforms.
It has opened talks with the opposition and ethnic minorities, and the party of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi recently decided to rejoin mainstream politics after boycotting elections that were widely seen as unfair.
The United States bans virtually all trade with Myanmar, including in its lucrative gem industry. Easing restrictions would require approval from Congress, where bills in support of sanctions have enjoyed overwhelming support.
The European Union also has sanctions freezing assets and businesses of junta figures as well as blacklisting their travel, but it has continued some trade and investment, such as in the oil sector.
Suu Kyi's release from house arrest last year after Myanmar's first election in 20 years has reignited debate over the effectiveness of the measures.
Critics of the policy say sanctions, which have largely kept Western companies out of a resource-rich corner of Asia, are hindering development in what is one of the world's poorest nations.
The Obama administration has made dialogue with adversaries of the United States a key part of its foreign policy, and in 2009 opened talks with Myanmar's then military junta, offering to ease sanctions in return for progress on democracy.
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Beijing (AFP) Nov 30, 2011
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