Why I disagree with America’s Burma policy

‘National Tribes of Burma’

Is the Burma of yesterday bound to become the Burma of tomorrow?

The United States, in the past few years, has developed a bad habit of failing to consider all the avenues when it comes to troubled countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Burma. One of the primary reasons I disagree with pro-democracy organizations like US Campaign for Burma and Burma Campaign UK are their strong pro-sanctions stance. I remember reading a paper somewhere about how sanctions let a nation not put its hands in another country’s affairs while allowing it to take the moral high road, essentially that in this case, the U.S. can ignore theproblem of Burma but act like it’s doing beneficial for the country.

I wholeheartedly disagree with the sanctions policy the U.S. government has in Burma–it stifles economic growth in this impoverished country, prevents free exchange of information, and only worsens conditions for the people of Burma, all the while bringing the country closer and more dependent on China. The United States constantly berates the Burmese government, but it has no leverage. What can it do? It’s like the Burmese saying, “barking dogs don’t bite.” State Department spokesmen can bark all they want, but the most they’ll get is a propaganda article in the New Light of Myanmar. All the senators can go around pretending like they’re doing the Burmese a wonderful thing by cutting them off from the West, when in fact, they’re not. I wrote a letter to Adam Schiff, my local congressman about why I believe sanctions against Burma do no good. He never replied.

And after thinking about Burma, reading more about its past, I’ve come to a conclusion. Burma may not even be ready for democracy. I think what Burma needs now is economic change, fast. Democracy can come later. People care about their livelihoods and their economic situations first and foremost. In The Economist, there’s a paragraph in an article about China that states that in Asia, public satisfaction was highest in authoritarian China and lowest in democratic Japan:

Andrew Nathan of Columbia University in New York, who is co-editor of a forthcoming book on how Asians view democracy, says that of the eight countries and regions surveyed, public satisfaction with the regime was highest in authoritarian China. The other places studied were five new democracies (South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Mongolia), a non-democracy (Hong Kong), plus democratic Japan where satisfaction was lowest. The authors are not optimistic that China is on the brink of democratic change. It is, they say, “poised to join the list of developed countries with large middle classes and non-democratic regimes”.
–“China before the Olympics,” The Economist (link)

I’m not endorsing the current government by any means. I know that it’s the most corrupt in the world (link), but it needs to play a role in Burma, a nation that could crack apart with the slightest squabbles. The Burmese do not have a history of unity, even during U Nu’s democratic era. During the 1988 uprising, people couldn’t forge one identity–even within the National League of Democracy. Historically, Burma wasn’t one nation. There was the Burman kingdom, with vassal states that were weakly allied and other tribal areas. And all of these ethnic minorities still use their past as political leverage and as a means to threaten from secession. I’m completely sure these would all stop if the economic status of these people improved.

“The future role of the military remains an open question. The officer corps has agreed that multiparty elections should again become the norm of Burma’s political system; but no one familiar with Burma’s political history expects the military’ to abandon all its administrative and political functions after the formation ofa new government. The continuing insurgencies in peripheral areas, the deep involvement of military personnel in a variety of government economic and social enterprises, and the military’s own ethos formed over 40 years of experience makes such a prospect unlikely.”
–Robert H Taylor in “The Evolving Military Role in Burma,” from Current History

America’s Burma policy should be questioned. It should raise voices or at least a debate. But everyone pretends like it is okay to deny a country of the economic necessities.

America’s Myanmar policy under Bush’s government is one of the administration’s few foreign endeavors that has not generated intense criticism. In 2003, Congress passed the Freedom and Democracy Act[…] A 2005 speech by George W Bush placed Myanmar with Cuba, Belarus, Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe in what he described as “outposts of tyranny”. Economic sanctions banning new US investment in Myanmar have been extended and new sanctions put in place during his tenure.
–“Laura Bush’s Myanmar crusade,” Asia Times (link)

It’s not. America does such shady dealings with so many corrupt nations, like the authoritarian regime of Saudi Arabia, the junta of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, and many others. But by taking the high road in Burma, the only people who lose out are the Burmese people. All the United States is doing is pushing Burma closer to the arms of its economic and political rival, China, and the East. When will the American government realize Burma is an asset, linking China and India, the world’s two largest nations?

One thought on “Why I disagree with America’s Burma policy

  1. Hla Oo says:

    Very good point, in deed.

    If you compare Burma to the econo-political developments of other comparable SE Asian countries, especially Indonesia, the main soaring point is General Ne Win’s steadfast refusal to abandon “Burmese Way To Socialism”. By then in late eighties, Burma has really fallen behind and had to apply for a LDC status with UN so that all world bank loans could be forgiven.

    Without Ne Win’s socialism, Burma would have a sort of democracy now like in Indonesia. And believe it or not while the Burmese army has willingly abandoned the Ne Win’s legacy and started the economic reforms after the 1988 uprising, the negative results of that uprising has unfortunately hindered their genuine efforts and virtually killed off the nascent free- market-economy of Burma.

    The current economic and trade sanctions by the Western democracies are the direct results of influential Burmese exile opposition which resides in the west and has forced a huge dark cloud permanently over our Burma. They are now blocking the sun rays urgently needed for the substantial growth of Burmese economy.

    Without that much needed economic development, there won’t be a positive political development essential for the gradual progress of democracy as eventually happened in Indonesia and Thailand.

    No more sanctions, please!

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