Congress weighs on Myanmar oil and gas sanctions

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The powerful chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee is set to unveil a bill to impose new U.S. sanctions on oil and gas, some of Myanmar’s most important industries, and push the State Department to determine whether Myanmar’s crimes against the Rohingya minority amount to genocide.

Democratic Representative Gregory Meeks plans to introduce the legislation in the coming weeks, an effort to pressure the country’s military junta to pursue political reconciliation. It comes just as Myanmar’s shadow government declared war on the regime earlier this week, threatening to end months of efforts led by the 10-member bloc of the Association of Asian Nations of Asia. Southeast to bring the army to the negotiating table.

“We want these to be targeted sanctions,” said a congressional aide involved in drafting the bill. Foreign police on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations informing the legislation. “We have been broad enough in the legislation to give the administration the flexibility to sue companies [and] entities that are actively controlled by the military… and allow them to continue their violence.

The powerful chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee is set to unveil a bill to impose new U.S. sanctions on oil and gas, some of Myanmar’s most important industries, and push the State Department to determine whether Myanmar’s crimes against the Rohingya minority amount to genocide.

Democratic Representative Gregory Meeks plans to introduce the legislation in the coming weeks, an effort to pressure the country’s military junta to pursue political reconciliation. It comes just as Myanmar’s shadow government declared war on the regime earlier this week, threatening to end months of efforts led by the 10-member bloc of the Association of Asian Nations of Asia. Southeast to bring the army to the negotiating table.

“We want these to be targeted sanctions,” said a congressional aide involved in drafting the bill. Foreign police on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations informing the legislation. “We have been broad enough in the legislation to give the administration the flexibility to sue companies [and] entities that are actively controlled by the military… and allow them to continue their violence.

The bill, which will have a complementary version in the Senate, would target Myanmar’s oil and gas industry and gemstone production, as well as senior military officials and members of the junta government, which seized power in the process. of a coup in February. Aid workers are also working on humanitarian arrangements that would give millions of dollars in aid directly to the people of Myanmar and to refugees in countries like Thailand. Meeks also wants the US government to hold China and Russia to account for their support for the military regime by bringing the issue to the United Nations.

Aides insisted the bill was intended to give the Biden administration new authorities to target entities such as the Myanmar oil and gas company and the gemstone industry, both operated by the junta. to generate income, with the aim of bringing the junta and opposition groups to the negotiating table as quickly as possible. The Biden administration imposed sanctions on top generals and coup officials, froze $ 1 billion in assets held in the United States, and imposed export restrictions on two large military-linked holding companies .

What it has failed to do is tackle the economic sectors that have been critical to both Myanmar’s economic recovery over the past decade and to the junta’s own fortunes. Natural gas revenues are the military’s largest source of foreign currency, according to the non-profit watchdog Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Although the French oil giant Total and the American Chevron have suspended some payments to an offshore gas joint venture that would have directly financed the junta, other countries in the region, such as Thailand, continue to have a major stake in the Myanmar’s hydrocarbon industry. .

The State Department has expressed fears that Myanmar’s economy is on the verge of collapse due to pro-democracy strikes and the military’s backlash, according to internal documents seen by Foreign police. In a report to Congress sent in April, the State Department suggested that the nationwide campaign of civil disobedience launched in the wake of the coup and the new regime’s violent crackdown “has virtually crippled Burma’s economy. stopped “. Some protesters have pledged to strike until Myanmar’s fragile democracy is restored, which would bring what remains of Myanmar’s economy to its knees.

A US official said the administration feared the dire state of the economy could lead to more refugee exoduses, which weighed heavily on the decision whether or not to impose new sanctions.

“They try to find a balance with what they can do to put pressure on them by squeezing [them] financially, ”said an American official, who spoke to Foreign police on condition of anonymity. “It really is an art rather than a science to do this.” (The congressional committee aide said an opposition government official “welcomed” the sanctions on the oil and gas industry in a conversation this week.)

On the other hand, some former officials and members of Congress have expressed concern that the White House is not exerting enough pressure on the regime over alleged human rights violations. The State Department has yet to act on a recommendation by the agency’s legal adviser’s office to declare the military persecution of the Rohingya minority a genocide, current and former officials have said, a debate that has been suspended. at the end of Trump. administration. Meeks is asking the Biden administration to formally determine whether the military has committed genocide against the Rohingya.

“They have a lot of authority, and there is no lack of authority. It’s just a lack of political will, ”said Kelley Currie, former Ambassador General for Global Women’s Issues and Deputy UN Ambassador under the Trump administration. “The only reason why [the opposition] does things like declaring war on the junta is that the Burmese themselves have basically renounced the United States and the rest of the so-called international community as being willing to do anything meaningful to help them .

Even though violence has escalated in recent months, some fear that the Biden administration’s post-coup policy in Myanmar remains too framed by the Obama administration’s hopes of promoting democracy and openness. foreign investments which have been wiped out by the new facts on the ground. Myanmar’s previous government promised liberalization and financial reforms, but the junta put those efforts aside, according to the State Department.

“The Biden administration is basically looking at the situation in Myanmar, which is very well presented the way it was presented during the second term of the Obama administration,” said Michael Martin, a former Burmese researcher with the Congressional Research Service who now works as Washington-based independent analyst. “The coup d’etat is a major wrench in advancing this policy. “


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