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

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

1 Billion People Used Facebook on Single Day

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised the accomplishment in a posting on the social media site 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