U.S. pushes China to use influence over Myanmar

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States pressed China and other allies of Myanmar on Wednesday to use their influence to convince the military junta to ease its harsh policies and stop a crackdown against protesters.

The Bush administration called for Myanmar to use restraint and said it was “very troubled” by reports that two monks and a civilian had been killed as Myanmar security forces tried to quell the biggest protests in 20 years.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said China, which has close contacts with the military regime and is a key trading partner with Myanmar, should in particular use its sway.

“We want them (China) to use their influence in whatever form they can to get the regime to change its views,” Casey said.

Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill, on a visit to Beijing on Wednesday to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program, planned to raise Myanmar during his talks with Chinese officials, Casey said.

“This is a matter of concern for the international community and particularly for Burma’s neighbors. We want to see those countries use whatever tools they think appropriate

-- diplomatic, economic or otherwise to impact and change the regime’s behavior,” said Casey. “We call on the government to exercise restraint.”

Diplomats say China has privately been speaking with the generals in Myanmar to convey international concern over what is happening there but Beijing has so far refrained from any public criticism.


Asia expert Derek Mitchell said it was unlikely that China would do anything publicly except perhaps to condemn violence in Myanmar and call for a peaceful resolution of differences.

“They will stick to their non-interference policy,” said Mitchell, a senior fellow for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank.

“This does not rise to any level of criticality for Chinese interests to violate what they see as an inviolable rule given the glass house they live in when it comes to internal disturbances and the ability of a government to put them down,” he added.

The United States has been pushing for years for Myanmar to free Nobel laureate and pro-democracy politician Aung San Suu Kyi and has led a campaign of isolation until the junta allows political reform, including her release.

President George W. Bush used his annual General Assembly speech on Tuesday to announce new U.S. sanctions against the Myanmar government and urged the United Nations and other countries to keep up pressure on the military rulers.

“The U.S. is very troubled that the regime would treat the Burmese people this way,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said as pressed his foreign policy agenda on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

In Washington, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said reports indicated the government of Myanmar had reacted with “typical brutality.”

“As I have said before to the regime in Burma, we are watching you. To the people of Burma, we stand with you,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and former presidential candidate, said Bush’s new sanctions were “a step in the right direction, but it will not solve the problem, and it is not enough.”

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in New York and Susan Cornwell in Washington)

Writing by Sue Pleming; editing by Stuart Grudgings;; tel: 202 898 8393