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Corker Statement at Hearing on U.S. Policy Toward Burma

WASHINGTON – With hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Burma, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a hearing to assess U.S. policy towards Burma, including geopolitical, economic, and humanitarian considerations. The committee heard testimony from senior U.S. officials with the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“In 2009, the Obama administration shifted the direction of U.S.-Burma policy – taking a leap of faith that an approach combining engagement and pressure would help usher in democratic reform where sanctions alone had failed.

“Although many were skeptical of such a shift, Burma’s 2010 elections provided an opportunity to test the credibility of a more proactive engagement approach. And in the ensuing years, the United States worked to balance engagement with the military junta and the democratic grassroots movement. 

“Undoubtedly, this engagement strategy had a positive effect on the trajectory of Burma’s democratic reforms, including the 2015 election that brought the democratic opposition to power. And while the 2015 election was historic, Burma’s democratic transition has always been a work in progress.

“Along with its complex ethnic and cultural history, the Burmese military continues to control key ministries and large swathes of the economy, which is why there was some concern in 2016 when the Obama administration unilaterally rolled back most of the restrictions on U.S. engagement with Burma.

“A year into this new policy, the question is: was this too soon? 

“The Burmese economy remains weak and projected flows of U.S. investment have not materialized.

“Human rights regulations are untouched, structural reforms have not progressed, and the peace process is stagnant.

“In recent weeks, we have also witnessed the appalling images of atrocities being committed by the Burmese military against the Rohingya minority.

“Hundreds of men, women, and children systematically killed; hundreds of thousands of people fled as their homes burned.

“We continue to hear the truly heartbreaking accounts of human suffering. 

“International frustration at the Burmese government’s failure to protect against such atrocities is even more heightened given decades of hope staked upon the de facto leader – Ms. San Suu Kyi.

“Of course, our first priority must remain the humanitarian situation, including the half a million men, women, and children whom have fled to Bangladesh.

“I also think we should not shy away from an honest assessment of the direction of U.S. policy towards Burma.

“Last year, I raised specific concerns with Ms. Suu Kyi about her government’s treatment of the Rohingya – one of the most vulnerable populations to human traffickers in the world.

“And I publicly shared my shock and dismay at her dismissiveness of these concerns, an attitude she has maintained even in the face an unfolding humanitarian crisis and mounting international criticism.

“Her failure to acknowledge the seemingly systematic campaign of brutality by the Burmese military continues to undermine the civilian government and Burma’s democratic transition as a whole.

“The United States should not abandon Burma. However, it may be time for a policy adjustment.

“I hope to have a candid conversation here today about the trajectory of current U.S. policy toward Burma, including the role that Congress can play in encouraging democratic reform and addressing humanitarian efforts.”

Click here for complete testimony and video footage of the hearing.