Senator Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters after a closed-door meeting with Senate Republicans in Washington DC on May 24, 2022. / AFP
US Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has questioned whether President Biden’s administration is willing to help Myanmar, saying the US’s role supporting the country’s struggle for democracy was “at a serious crossroads”.
The senator, who has worked across the aisle to encourage previous administrations to do more to stand with the dissidents and democrats of Myanmar, addressed senior officials from the Biden administration during Wednesday’s briefing to members of the US Senate.
Senator’s McConnell’s intervention comes at a time when the Senate is carrying out a process directed by McConnell’s bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 to support Myanmar’s democracy movement. It includes provisions such as legitimizing Myanmar’s parallel National Unity Government (NUG), which was formed by lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD) and its ethnic allies after the NLD government was ousted in a coup last year.
The amendment was passed by the Senate in December last year, but still requires White House officials to brief senators on the US’s policy towards Myanmar since the coup.
Senator McConnell told the Senate: “My friends (in Myanmar) are enduring a 16th month under the rule of yet another brutal military junta. Thousands of civilians have lost their lives.” The Senator was referring to the regime’s post-coup atrocities against its own people, the majority of whom have rejected junta rule.
“But Burma’s [Myanmar] struggle for democracy – and our role in support – is at a serious crossroads. And today, our colleagues expect to hear from the administration’s representatives what more it is prepared to do to help the people of Burma,” he added.
Days before the briefing, Senator McConnell met with the NUG’s foreign minister Daw Zin Mar Aung. She requested the US to bolster the legitimacy of the NUG, sanction the regime’s support system and give direct assistance to the people of Myanmar.
“I’m hopeful the representatives here today are prepared to discuss how the Biden administration is prioritizing these objectives, and its strategy to achieve each of them,” said Senator McConnell.
During the briefing on Wednesday, the Senator asked the US government what steps the administration was prepared to take to engage, support, and formally recognize the NUG and its National Unity Consultative Council, a body formed to bring together forces opposed to the regime, and the NUG’s armed wing, the People’s Defense Forces.
He said also that the US needs to ramp up pressure on the military regime because Myanmar dissidents were asking “what additional steps the administration will take” to target the junta’s foreign enablers and corporate affiliates, including the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. The junta-controlled enterprise runs the country’s oil and gas sector.
Lastly, the senator urged the US to find a more effective way of partnering with Myanmar’s neighbors India and Thailand to deliver direct aid assistance to the people of Myanmar, as tens of thousands of civilians nationwide have been forced to flee their homes due to junta raids and arson attacks.
“How is it [the administration] working to help document the junta’s crimes and provide cross-border humanitarian assistance for its victims?” asked the Senator.
Senator McConnell admitted that the challenges facing the Myanmar people are complicated. But he said the proposition for the US government was simple: “Are we willing to help a people committed to democracy finally realize it for themselves?”
“I look forward to hearing how the Biden administration plans to answer this call,” he added.