U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who won the release of an American prisoner in Burma, says the United States must develop new ways to bring about political and economic change in the isolated state. Senator Webb called on China to end its silence on Burma and use its influence there with the repressive government.
In talks with Burma's leader, General Than Shwe, Senator Webb secured the release of U.S. citizen John Yettaw, whose visit in May to the lakeside home of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi led to her extended house arrest for another 18 months. The ailing Yettaw, who had been sentenced to seven years in prison and hard labor, was officially deported Sunday and flew with Webb to Bangkok, where is he is undergoing a medical check-up.
Speaking in Bangkok, Webb said he asked for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, and for her participation in planned elections next year during his talks in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
"It's something that we hope the government of Myanmar will consider as the process moves forward," Webb said.
Senator Webb was also allowed to talk with Aung San Suu Kyi for 40 minutes in Rangoon Saturday.
"I hope that this, among other things, is something that we can take advantage of and begin laying a foundation of goodwill and confidence building, so that we might be able to have a better situation in the future," Webb said.
Webb, who favors the eventual lifting of U.S. sanctions on Burma, says the United States must find new ways to end the isolation of the people of Burma and to bring about political and economic change in the country.
He expressed concern about China's growing influence, and about Beijing's passive policy toward the political deadlock between the repressive military and pro-democracy groups. Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won elections in 1990, but was never allowed to govern.
"To be respected in the world community, China has an obligation to end its silence and to use its influence in order to assist in resolving this situation," Webb said. "The sanctions of the past several years has increased Myanmar's isolation from Western governments and cultures. These are major impediments in allowing the Burmsese people the kind of access to the outside world that is essential to their economic and political growth. Yet, at the same time, these sanctions have allowed China to dramatically increase its economic and political influence in Myanmar, creating an imbalance that affects the long term national goals of many other countries. This is not healthy for the region."
China has significant commercial interests there, particularly in oil and gas.
Webb, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, is on a five-nation tour of Southeast Asia. The White House and the State Department have said Webb was not carrying any specific message from President Barack Obama on his trip to Burma.