News / Asia

Q&A: Burma Analyst Questions Impact of Easing Sanctions

Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks with youths at the National League for Democracy headquarters in Rangoon, February 8, 2011.
Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks with youths at the National League for Democracy headquarters in Rangoon, February 8, 2011.

Burma's most prominent opposition party is calling for talks with Western nations to see if international sanctions on the military-controlled government can be reworked to improve the living standards of the average Burmese citizen.

The National League for Democracy, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, says the sanctions should not be lifted as long as more than 2,000 political prisoners remain in captivity. But the party also urges talks with the United States, the European Union, Canada and Australia to consider "when, how and under what circumstances sanctions might be modified in the interests of democracy, human rights and a healthy economic environment."

Since 1997, the United States has imposed a range of economic sanctions on Burma for the government’s repressive policies. The sanctions include bans on importing Burmese products into the United States and exporting financial services from the United States to Burma.

VOA's Sarah Williams asked Sean Turnell, an associate professor of economics at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and the author of “Fiery Dragons: Banks, Moneylenders and Microfinance in Burma,” about what is motivating the opposition.

Why do you think the NLD is rethinking its stance on sanctions?

"I think what they are doing in calling for dialogue is just indicating that they’re flexible. If you look through what they are calling for, they are really saying, 'Look, Burma’s economic problems mostly come from policies of the regime, that the sanctions have been imposed essentially because of the extraordinary human rights abuses, and so on, that have taken place in Burma over many years, and  so the best way to get sanctions off is to [address] those particular problems in the human rights area.'

So, that’s the majority of the document. Toward the end, they talk about dialogue, but I think it is very much in the context of needing to come up with the strategy of ‘Well, how would we alleviate sanctions, how would we begin to lift that process, how better could we integrate Burma with the rest of the world if genuine change were to take place?'"   

How do they measure the impact of the sanctions?

"Well, that’s a really good question, because, of course, it is incredibly difficult. In a sense it is trying to determine] what would have taken place in the absence of sanctions. Personally, I think the impact is actually quite minimal. That’s essentially because the economic damage done by the regime has been so severe. If we look into Burma’s economy, sanctions are really a marginal issue in terms of the overall economic performance. Burma’s economy was driven down well before sanctions came in. In that context, I think it is always important to remember that the sanctions only came in, in the fullest measure, really, in about 2003. And even up to the present, they are not really fully implemented. So, Burma’s problems go way beyond the sanctions."

What is the state of the Burmese economy? Is it ready for foreign investment?

"It’s in a dreadful state at the moment, which is an incredible state of affairs, really, because at  the end of World War II, Burma was the richest country in South East Asia. It was the country that everyone expected it to most quickly catch up to the West. The fact is now that it usually ranks in the bottom 10 or so countries on just about every measure we can think of with respect to economic and human development. So, it really is in a dire state.

"I think at the moment it is not really the situation that foreign investment either would be attracted to the country or would do much good.  And, in fact, if we look at what foreign investment there is at the moment, it’s investment from  countries like China or some other Asian countries that are very interested in extracting energy and other nature resources out of Burma. But, they are not really very interested in implementing long-term investment  -- building factories and the like, the sorts of things that would require better economic foundations and institutions in Burma. Those institutions and foundations are not there.  So, I think there does need to be a broader political economy change for good, long-term investment to take place in Burma."

Are the sanctions affecting the generals?  Where do they keep their money?


"Burma’s economy is very much divided. There’s a formal economy, which is the big, money earning enterprises, the gas enterprises, and so on. Those enterprises belong to the state, to the generals and to the various cronies connected to them. Now, they are the ones most affected by international  sanctions. The majority of Burmese people, of course, eke out an existence in little more than  subsistence agriculture; [it's] very much an informal economy and they have very little to do, obviously, with the international economy. So, for them, sanctions don’t really bite that much. I think it is the case that sanctions hurt the generals and the people connected to them more than anyone else.

"Many countries, including Australia, the United States and the European Union have financial sanctions which block international financial flows and that particularly affects the generals. Now the generals, of course, have not changed their behavior as yet, which, I think says much about them as much as it does about the effectiveness of sanctions.

You May Like

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory 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.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid