The hypocrisy of sanctioning Myanmar

Sanne van Oosten

The economic sanctions imposed on Myanmar by many Western countries have been in the news frequently lately. In the recent by-elections in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) headed by Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi won most seats. Although, it remains to be seen if any real reform will push through, many Western leaders have announced temporarily lifting these sanctions. In this blog I will argue that these sanctions are completely hypocritical in the first place. Why? Once again, it has turned out that money speaks louder than principals. Let me explain.

Even though all Western trade is prohibited with Myanmar, exceptions have been made for the industry with the highest profits: the gas industry. UK’s Premier Oil, France’s Total and the US’ Unocal are involved in exploiting gas fields off the coast of Myanmar. If it was the case that the dealings were mostly with the local population, this might still be acceptable. However, not many other industries than the gas industry ensure the stream of money to go mostly into the hands of that good ole Myanmar government (i.e. military junta). Sure, why don’t you, impose economic sanctions that potentially hurt the local population in order to pressure the government to reform, but keep up a business that ensures the money is going right into the pockets of these same government officials. Sounds like the text-book definition of hypocrisy to me.

Also, principles are easy to keep when they’re cheap, but when they get a little bit more expensive they turn out to just not be so important anymore. Way to be hypocritical, goody two shoes West. The most striking example today is, of course, economic super power China. They are doing pretty much the same as the military junta. They are sending political dissidents to jail and oppressing various ethnic groups. Sound familiar? Sounds like Myanmar’s military junta, but the most important difference is that China has money, and Myanmar does not. Therefore, China is not being subjected to economic sanctions and Myanmar is.

I’m not pleading for the West to start sanctioning every country that they don’t agree with, but I do want to say this: when deciding to use a measure that is potentially harmful to the local population, they better be consistent. Economic sanctions might be doing the local population of Myanmar more harm than good, so if this harsh measure is employed, it might also be appropriate if a lack of consistency doesn’t make the whole policy so hypocritical.

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