McCain urges suspension of Myanmar sanctions

Key Republican Senator John McCain called Monday on the United States to suspend most sanctions on Myanmar, saying the administration must go further than planned to encourage the country's reforms.

McCain proposed that the United States, like the European Union, freeze sanctions on the country formerly known as Burma for a set time period with the exception of the embargo on arms sales.

McCain, who has traveled twice to Myanmar over the past year, acknowledged the country had more work to do on ending long-running ethnic wars but said President Thein Sein and his allies "are sincere about reform, and they are making real progress."

Such concrete moves "should be met with reciprocal actions by the United States that can strengthen these reforms, benefit ordinary Burmese and improve our relationship," McCain said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

McCain said the United States should still maintain a blacklist on trade with particular companies and individuals in Myanmar and ban US companies from doing business with military-dominated firms.

"The right investment would strengthen Burma's private sector, benefit its citizens and ultimately loosen the military's control over the economy and the civilian government," the Arizona senator said.

"The wrong investment would do the opposite -- entrenching a new oligarchy and setting back Burma's development for decades," he said.

"US businesses will never win a race to the bottom with some of their Asian -- or even European -- competitors, and they should not try," he said.

The administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat who defeated McCain in the White House race in 2008, has been pursuing talks with Myanmar in hopes of ending the country's long isolation.

In its latest gesture, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin will hold talks in Washington Thursday in a long-planned reciprocal visit to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's landmark December trip to Myanmar, a US official said.

The Obama administration announced on April 4 that it would allow limited investment and appoint an ambassador after Myanmar allowed by-elections in which democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi -- who spent most of the past two decades under house arrest -- won a seat in parliament.

But the administration has opposed a complete lifting of sanctions, saying that it needs to preserve leverage to encourage further reforms including an end to abuses by the military in ethnic minority areas.

Human rights groups have also opposed an immediate end to sanctions. But leading US businesses have urged a lifting of restrictions, saying they are losing out to Chinese and other competitors in a growing market.

Separately, McCain voiced concern about China, saying that the Asian power's fragility was laid bare by the power struggle that ousted political leader Bo Xilai and the escape to the US embassy of dissident Chen Guangcheng.

"I wonder about the real permanency of this regime that's now running China, and whether with things like a BlackBerry and a tweet and all of those things, whether there may not be maybe some real dissent," McCain said.

"I don't see how a group of men -- who most of the 1.3 billion people in China don't even know their names -- can continue to meet once a year in a seaside resort and determine the future of 1.3 billion people without something having to change either sooner or later," he said.

The blunt-speaking senator later clarified that, despite his concerns, he was not predicting "cataclysmic events" in China.

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