Why Aung San Suu Kyi wants to keep sanctions on Burma
Some analysts warn that democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-sanctions strategy may lose steam as Burma relies on its Asian neighbors for trade and investment.
(Page 2 of 2)
In an internal review, the EU recently found that its sanctions had failed to achieve their political goals and had “undoubtedly contributed to the stagnation and continuing impoverishment of the people.” The EU review, which was obtained by the Monitor, also concluded that nonstatutory curbs on multilateral aid to Burma, such as World Bank loans, had primarily affected the rural poor.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But the NLD has argued that it was too soon to lift sanctions. In a Feb. 8 statement, it claimed that economic conditions had “not been affected by sanctions to any notable degree” and blamed the military for acute poverty and poor governance. It said it was ready for talks with Western governments on how the restrictions could eventually be modified with a view to improving human rights.
Suu Kyi's leverage?
Analysts say Suu Kyi sees sanctions as her political leverage in Burma, since the US and other governments take a lead from her stance. “She wants to show that she is modern and understands the needs of the country, but she doesn’t want to let go of the sanctions card,” says the Western diplomat.
Her supporters argue that the regime desperately wants to lift sanctions and had hoped that her release would trigger a change in Western policy. They say this explains why state media went on the offensive against the NLD when it stuck to its guns.
A Feb. 13 commentary that ran in several newspapers attacked the NLD’s pro-sanctions stance and warned of a “tragic end” for the party and its leader. In response, a US State Department spokesman said the regime “was up to its old tricks” by threatening Suu Kyi. However, one expert said the original Burmese-language expression used was less menacing and may have been taken out of context.
Some analysts warn that Suu Kyi’s strategy may lose steam as Burma relies on its Asian neighbors for trade and investment. China is building an oil and gas pipeline and is likely to invest in a new Thai-led industrial zone. By contrast, American and European companies have a limited presence in Burma and have been the target of campaigns by exiled Burmese groups allied to the NLD.
Thant Myint-U, a historian, said the government’s wish to see sanctions lifted must be set against Western demands for political reforms. “I think their default approach will be to try and make Western sanctions irrelevant, through expanding ties with China and the rest of the region,” he says.
Another longtime Burma watcher, who requested anonymity ahead of a scheduled visit there, said financial sanctions against regime members were more effective than blanket trade bans. He argued that the upheaval in the Middle East showed the dangers of doing business with such people.
“Going after the money of the leaders, tracking it, tracing it, sends the signal to potential business partners that their best interests aren’t served by their support or proximity to the regime,” he wrote by e-mail.