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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More