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In Asia, U.S. policy for business and human rights should be consistent

In his July 2 op-ed column [“The art of compromise”], Fred Hiatt quoted selectively from my speech regarding U.S. investment in Burma, wherein I stated that “no government official from any foreign country should be telling us what sectors we should invest in.” Because this referred to Burmese political leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who advised against U.S. investment in Burma’s energy sector, Mr. Hiatt concluded that I am “more eager to do business with Burma than promote its democracy.”

First, it can be fairly said that without the intense efforts initiated from my office, including my groundbreaking visit to Burma in 2009, many of the democratic advances in Burma (also known as Myanmar) would not have taken place.

Second, U.S. law already ensures transparency in our business practices throughout the world; it is simply not appropriate for our policies to be dictated by any foreign official, even one as admired as Aung San Suu Kyi. My strong opinion on this issue is central to my effort to help establish a consistent foreign policy, driven by neither expediency nor individual personalities. I conceived and chaired a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on this in 2010.

Third, in fairness to my views, Mr. Hiatt could have quoted me saying in the same speech that while Aung San Suu Kyi is now a member of the parliament, China’s Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo remains in prison with thousands of political prisoners, China has never held free elections nor allowed an opposition party, and the only Asian country that ranks below China in media openness is North Korea.

To borrow from Mr. Hiatt, one of the great challenges of our time is that for decades our economic and cultural elites have been “more eager to do business with China than promote its democracy.”

Jim Webb, Washington

The writer, a Democrat from Virginia, is a member of the U.S. Senate.

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