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.
William Ide

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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap 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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid