The United States is easing up on one of its harshest sanctions against Myanmar, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced.
Clinton told President Thein Sein Wednesday that the US would lift its ban on imports, one of the biggest economic restrictions still imposed on the nation, to reward continued efforts to reform Myanmar, once led by a military junta known for its human rights abuses.
"In recognition of the continued progress toward reform and in response to requests from both the government and the opposition, the United States is taking the next step in normalizing our commercial relationship," Clinton told Thein Sein during a sidelines meeting at the UN General Assembly in New York, Reuters reported.
"We will begin the process of easing restrictions on imports of Burmese goods into the United States," Clinton added, according to Reuters. "We hope this will provide more opportunities for your people to sell their goods into our market."
The step by Clinton coincides with a landmark visit to the US by Myanmar's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has long voiced her opinion that the sanctions be lifted.
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"The president has consistently called for the lifting of US sanctions and ... Aung San Suu Kyi has also called for lifting sanctions in her speeches," Maj. Zaw Htay, director of the president's office, told the Associated Press. "This is a very positive move and also a valuable outcome of the president's US trip."
However, some activists worry that this move by the US will cause a loss of leverage in the country, which still has a long way to go on the road to reform, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“We still know there are bad actors that haven’t changed their behavior,” said Jennifer Quigley, advocacy director for the US Campaign for Burma. “But they’re giving these gifts to Suu Kyi and President Sein on their trips. When did lifting our sanctions turn into presents?”
Some speculate that the United States' move is part of a strategy to align its foreign policy more closely to Asia as China's global economic influence increases, Voice of America pointed out.
Clinton did not give details about how or when the restrictions would be pulled back, the Los Angeles Times reported. The import ban was renewed by Congress in August, but made allowances for Obama to waive the restrictions.
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