McConnell Opens Discussion On Outlook For Democracy In Burma

‘The resilience of the people of Burma has been nothing short of inspiring. This injustice has brought young and old to the streets. It has led Burma’s ethnic majority and its ethnic minorities together to focus on their shared democratic aspirations. And it’s spurred real bipartisan action here in the United States.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today at a Heritage Foundation virtual discussion with leaders of Burma’s democracy movement:

“Hello, I’m Senator Mitch McConnell.

“Historically, even among foreign policy experts, Burma has received very little attention in Washington.  But its struggle for democracy and self-determination has been a personal focus of mine for multiple decades. I’ve known Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for many years. We corresponded while she was under house arrest.

“Over the years, I’ve done my best to advocate for the people of Burma, to lift up the forces for good in their country, to support the pro-democracy movement, and to impose costs on the military junta that has so often suppressed the will of the people. And I’ve done my level best to keep the plight of Burma’s people in full view of policymakers here in Washington, even when atrocities and injustices committed against them were not on the front pages of our newspapers.

“The way I see it, supporting our friends in the cause of democracy is one of the best ways to honor our own.  Even more so today as China seeks to expand its malign influence throughout Southeast Asia – including in Burma.

“Unfortunately, the coup d’etat and the junta’s brutal violence against its own people have brought Burma back to the center of the international stage without any help from us.

“The Tatmadaw has stolen not just an election, but the country from the people. The junta has detained democratically-elected leaders. They’ve gunned down hundreds of pro-democracy advocates for demonstrating peacefully in the streets. They’ve imprisoned thousands of protestors on sham charges.  They’ve detained foreign expert advisors to the democratically-elected government on key reforms as hostages. In short, the military has declared war on its own people. 

“The resilience of the people of Burma has been nothing short of inspiring. This injustice has brought young and old to the streets. It has led Burma’s ethnic majority and its ethnic minorities together to focus on their shared democratic aspirations.  And it’s spurred real bipartisan action here in the United States.

“I have been in close touch with the Biden Administration on Burma, discussing how to best support opposition to the junta while standing up new targeted sanctions and export licensing bans to hit the leaders of the military coup where it hurts: in the wallet. And I’ve been encouraged by the Administration’s swift response.

“Now the junta is listed alongside regimes like the ones in China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and Syria, and subject to the strictest military end-user controls. The United States has marked the junta’s most prominent generals and holding companies for additional crippling prohibitions.

“But the people of Burma are still waiting.

“They’re waiting for the international community to join in wider condemnation of this forced military rule, and to recognize and support the democratically-elected National Unity Government. 

“They’re waiting for the UN Security Council to overcome its most intransigent members and levy serious sanctions and arms embargoes of its own.

“And they’re waiting for much needed humanitarian aid for the growing number of internally displaced persons along the border with Thailand.

“But unfortunately, to Moscow or Beijing, military intimidation and brutal suppression of dissent, including dissolving opposition political parties, aren’t outrageous violations of fundamental norms. They’re second nature!

“So if consensus cannot be found at the UN Security Council, then the United States and its Democratic partners should force China or Russia to veto measures intended to restore democracy in Burma, clarifying for the world who stands with the people of Burma on the right side of history.

“Frankly, there’s no greater gift the free world could give the Chinese Communist Party than by staying silent as a promising democratic movement is suffocated in its own backyard.

“For far too long, a corrupt military and outside forces like the PRC have played minority groups against one another to ensure that self-determination remains a pipe dream. They know that a Burma divided against itself is easier to manipulate and exploit than a robust democracy.

“But today, Burma’s oppressors face a new and encouraging resolve among its citizens.

“Even as the international community has been slow to unite behind them, the people of Burma have shown the potential to heal even the country’s deepest ethnic divisions. 

“And they have demonstrated courage and a commitment to freedom that stands in contrast to the junta’s cowardice in slaughtering young and old.  

“When this movement prevails, the exiled leaders of the NUG will have crucial tasks before them:

“Turning widespread opposition to the military coup into united support for lasting democracy for all of Burma’s people…

“Urgently making long-overdue reforms to Burma’s economy, constitution, and security institutions…

“And showing that nationwide reconciliation is the only real path forward to a democratic future.

“So I’m grateful to the Heritage Foundation for putting this spotlight on Burma. I’m grateful to all of you for your work, and interest, and commitment to this important cause.

“And I’m especially glad that Daw Zin Mar Aung, the NUG’s Foreign Minister, is able to join and participate today. Thank you for being with us.

“Please never doubt that the United States of America and our people are pulling hard for your success.

“Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.”

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