Why Washington’s proposed sanctions on Myanmar won’t work

By Huang Dekai Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/29 19:03:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT



The US State Department said on Thursday that the country is withdrawing military assistance units from Myanmar over the country's treatment of Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State. This is yet another harsh statement by the US after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on October 18 he holds the military leadership in Myanmar responsible for the current refugee crisis affecting the country's Rohingya Muslims.

State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said the US is "consulting with allies and partners on accountability options at the UN, the UN Human Rights Council, and other appropriate venues, and exploring accountability mechanisms available under US law, including targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act."

It has been only a year when the Obama administration lifted sanctions on Myanmar on October 7, 2016. However, unilateral US sanctions, if imposed, will not bring any benefits but will cause more geopolitical uncertainty associated with the Rohingya issue.

First, US sanctions on Myanmar are more of a slogan. Thanks to nearly 20 years of sanctions imposed by US and its allies, their political, economic, security and diplomatic relationship with Myanmar remained weak. Although the US lifted the sanctions in 2016 and tried to start a new bilateral relationship, US-Myanmar ties have been estranged. Therefore, new US sanctions will not have any incremental effect. The US government will also face domestic pressure from Congressmen over human rights, so the implementation of the sanctions remains up in the air.

Besides, it may trigger Myanmar's internal division and affect resolution of the Rohingya crisis. Unilateral sanctions on the Myanmar military may prompt it to adopt a tougher approach toward the Rohingya issue. This will be a startling contrast to the positive attitude of the Myanmar government to seek a solution to the Rohingya issue. Driving a wedge between the Myanmar government and the military does not help solve the issue.

The international community will not give its nod to new US sanctions. Besides opposition from Myanmar authorities, Europe - a traditional US ally - also holds a negative stance. Europe is dissatisfied with the way Myanmar authorities dealt with the Rohingya issue and has increased pressure on the country, but it has remained silent over US considering fresh sanctions on Myanmar.

Emerging countries such as China, India and Russia also oppose the sanctions. In March, China and Russia blocked a short UN Security Council statement over Myanmar's human rights record. In September, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a three-day visit to Myanmar when it was facing international scrutiny over the Rohingya crisis, indicating that India will be siding with the government.

The US will be propelled to adjust its Asia-Pacific strategy. During the Obama administration, the US adopted the rebalancing strategy in the Asia-Pacific region and Myanmar became an important pillar of US foreign strategy. Washington changed its isolationist diplomacy toward Nay Pyi Taw but resorted to engagement to expand the depth and width of bilateral cooperation.

If the US imposes sanctions on Myanmar again, there will be an inevitable setback in relations and Washington will lose its influence in the country. This will impair US rebalancing strategy in the Asia-Pacific and push Washington to make adjustments.

Sanctions are not a permanent solution. They only reflect US power politics, the appeal of which has faded in a multilateral world. On the contrary, the international community welcomes joint regional governance based on equality and respect for the sovereignty of other nations.

As for the Rohingya issue, dialogues and consultations should be promoted and humanitarian assistance provided to resolve the problem.

The author is a scholar with the Institute of International Studies of Yunnan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



Posted in: ASIAN REVIEW

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