Sanctions

   Following the seizure of power by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) on September 18, 1988, Japan, European countries, and the United States halted the flow of official development assistance (ODA). This was the beginning of international sanctions against the new military government, which accelerated during the next decade, especially after the SLORC refused to recognize the results of the General Election of May 27, 1990. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi backed comprehensive sanctions as a means of forcing the regime to democratize and halt human rights abuses. The moral authority of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner galvanized activists worldwide, who called for Burma to become the "South Africa of the 1990s" (because the apartheid regime in that country had supposedly been forced out of power by a coordinated international boycott).
   The member countries of the European Union have implemented an array of sanctions, including suspension of all ODA, except for humanitarian purposes, an arms embargo and halt to defense cooperation, bans on the issuance of visas to high-ranking regime officials, and withdrawal of GSP privileges from Burma (because of forced labor). In 1996, the EU adopted a "Common Position" on Burma that was reaffirmed and strengthened in 2000 and 2003. The U.S. government approved a nonretroactive ban on American investment in the country on May 20, 1997. Following the "Black Friday" Incident of May 30, 2003, the Bush Administration signed into law the "Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act," a set of more severe measures that include a ban on imports from Burma and financial transactions between Americans and entities connected in any way to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). A number of American states and cities passed "selective purchasing laws" in the 1990s designed to penalize companies that did business in Burma, but the Massachusetts law was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Although by 2003 some new Japanese ODA projects had been initiated, the Tokyo government did not approve aid on the scale given during the Ne Win era before 1988 because of financial considerations and pressure from the United States. Because of American, Japanese, and European influence over multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, Burma was effectively barred from receiving their support, at least on a major scale.
   Supporters of tough sanctions and "constructive engagement" (capital investment in the country to promote social change and eventual democratization) are bitterly at odds. In a 1997 essay in the Hong Kong-based magazine Far Eastern Economic Review, Ma Thanegi, a former associate of Daw Suu Kyi, claimed that sanctions hurt the people without effectively changing the behavior of the regime. Some observers argued that although business-oriented investment or aid should be (partially) banned, Burma desperately needed humanitarian aid. Critics of sanctions noted that the 2003 trade embargo by Washington threw tens of thousands of women factory workers out of work because Burma exported US$300-400 million in textiles to the United States, and that sanctions by Western countries have had little real impact because the SPDC has close economic ties with China, India, and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In fact, it seems that neither sanctions nor constructive engagement have had much influence on the behavior of the SPDC, which is willing to risk economic overdependence on China and to sacrifice the welfare of the people to keep itself in power.
   See also Economy and Economic Policy, State Law and Order Restoration Council/ State Peace and Development Council Era; "Visit Myanmar Year".

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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