Pressing Burma

President Barack Obama recently nominated Derek Mitchell as the first U.S. Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma. “The appointment of an envoy to Burma, which was called for in U.S. legislation passed three years ago, is a positive step forward in the U.S.’s evolving policy of engagement toward Burma,” says Suzanne DiMaggio, Asia Society’s Vice President for Global Policy Programs. “At this moment of potential change, every effort should be made to ramp up dialogue with all facets of Burmese society -- including senior government officials, politicians and civil servants in the new ministries, opposition leaders, ethnic groups, as well as representatives from the private sector and NGOs -- and press for desperately needed reforms. Engaging Burma’s neighbors will also be a key part of the job, especially in light of growing concerns related to Burma’s reported nuclear ambitions and its troubling relationship with North Korea, greater instability along the Burmese borders as a result of military efforts to rein in insurgent groups, the continuing export of disease and refugees, and the trafficking of drugs and contraband across its porous borders. Another important part of the job will be to ensure that U.S. sanctions against Burma are better targeted toward corrupt political actors and their cronies, and not ordinary Burmese citizens. Related to this, the new envoy should lead an assessment of U.S. sanctions policy that takes into consideration the views of ASEAN, the E.U. and other key external and internal players. As a reinforcing step, Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon should follow Mr. Obama’s lead and name a full time U.N. envoy to Burma.”

Suzanne, who is based in New York, is Director of the Asia Society’s Task Force on U.S. Policy toward Burma/Myanmar. To arrange an interview, contact the Asia Society communications department at 212-327-9271 or