News / Asia

Burmese Reforms Raise Questions About Economic Sanctions

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Burma pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi shake hands before dinner at the US Chief of Mission Residence in Rangoon, Burma, December 1, 2011.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Burma pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi shake hands before dinner at the US Chief of Mission Residence in Rangoon, Burma, December 1, 2011.

Although U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says economic sanctions against Burma will not be lifted until certain policies of the Burmese government change, there is debate among analysts over the effect of Washington’s trade restrictions and the role they play in promoting political reform.

The United States has gradually tightened trade restrictions on Burma for more than two decades to promote reform and punish the country's military leaders for their human rights violations - abuses, activists say, that continue unabated.

But with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi agreeing to reenter politics, and Burma's new government taking steps to reform, what role should economic sanctions continue to play?

U.S. firms stay out

Maung Zarni, a Burmese researcher at The London School of Economics and Political Science, said one thing sanctions have done is to keep U.S. companies from becoming important players in Burma's economy.

"The Chinese, the South Koreans, even Japan and the Indians have stepped into the place that has been vacated by U.S. investors.  Economically, sanctions, per se, do not have much of an impact on the behavior of the Burmese generals," said Zarni.

After nearly five decades of military rule, Burma is one of the region's poorest economies. The country is rich in natural resources, though, which are needed by neighboring China and other countries in the region.

Carlyle Thayer, an Asia analyst at The University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia, said, "Sanctions really don't work, unless everybody cooperates; there are ways of evading it. And that country has a long track record of self-imposed isolation from the outside world and leaders who had a world view that won't be changed by what Washington would like them to do."

Encouraging dialogue

As Western countries tried to isolate Burma, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, took a different route, engaging Burma's military leaders and allowing the country to become a member in 1997.

Last month, ASEAN approved a decision to allow Burma to become its chair in 2014, after a flurry of reforms by the country's government that is now led by a retired general, President Thein Sein.

In recent months, the government has relaxed media controls, passed laws that allow for labor unions and the right to protest, released more than 200 political prisoners and held direct talks with Suu Kyi.

Analyst Thayer said that unlike Western sanctions, Burma's participation in ASEAN helps accelerate reforms.

"When ASEAN holds its ASEAN related summits twice a year, there's a gathering momentum for things to take place around that time," said Thayer.

Earlier this year, the European Union broke ranks with the United States, approving the temporary removal of some sanctions against Burma. The move was the first reversal of punitive measures put in place by Western governments.

President Barack Obama calls Burma's recent reforms "flickers of progress," but there is no sign that Washington will end sanctions soon.  The Obama administration says it wants to see more political and economic reforms.

Counterbalancing Chinese influence

Zarni said that although he advocated the lifting of sanctions in the past because of their effect on the Burmese people, the situation has changed now that Burma is seeking more engagement with Washington.

"Without the sanctions in place, the regime would not have even made whatever gestures or superficial gestures that they have made to date, much less bring Aung San Suu Kyi onboard," said Zarni.

Analysts add that the flood of small- and medium-sized Chinese businesses into northern Burma, and a wide array of investment projects from China, are another reason why Burma's wants more engagement with Washington and why sanctions still can help promote reforms.

"The Burmese regime wants to basically counterbalance China's growing power and influence in the country. I think that's where the sanctions and the role of the United States all of a sudden takes on a new dimension of significance," said Zarni.

Zarni said that one way the United States might use this leverage is by taking a more critical stance when it comes to issues such as the Burmese military's continued operations against the country's ethnic minorities. He said the United States also should get the Burmese government to acknowledge that it holds and tortures political prisoners.

You May Like

Arab League Delays Forming Joint Force

Delay grows out of one of original obstacles facing pan-Arab force, analysts say: 'They may agree on the principle, but they continue to argue about how to implement the project' More

Pakistan Demands Afghanistan Protect Its Kabul Mission, Staff

Officials in Islamabad say Afghan agents are harassing Pakistani embassy personnel, particularly those living outside of mission’s compound More

US Survey: Trump Lead Grows in Republican Presidential Contest

Quinnipiac University poll shows brash billionaire real estate mogul with 28 percent support among Republican voters More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs