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What happens to Myanmar if the US imposes new sanctions?

Screenshot 2021-02-04 075451
Min Aung Hlaing 

US President Joe Biden has threatened to impose sanctions on Myanmar in response to the military coup and the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders.

But what might that mean for the Southeast Asian country?

Has Myanmar ever faced sanctions before?

The US first imposed sanctions on the country formerly known as Burma in 1998 after the military there violently suppressed a protest. These were tightened over the following decades because of what Washington regarded as human rights violations by the ruling junta.

The restrictions were gradually eased in response to reforms by Myanmar President Thein Sein and the release of Suu Kyi, and lifted by former US president Barack Obama in 2016.

In 2019, former US president Donald Trump introduced new sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders, including commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, over the extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims.

What was the effect of the restrictions?

Economic sanctions, including reductions in financial aid, blocking access to assets and reversing investment flows, caused “comprehensive harm” to Myanmar, according to Heng Kai, a postdoctoral fellow at Xiamen University.

The sanctions were an “indiscriminate attack that not only affected the military government, but also affected the economic development of the entire country”, he said.

Myanmar is one of Asia’s poorest countries. The World Bank said its economy would grow 2 per cent this year.

What might Joe Biden do?

Xu Liping, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Science’s Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, said the sanctions were likely to be targeted against Min Aung Hlaing and his companies.

But Biden’s actions might be toned down if Suu Kyi was released, he said.

Heng Kai questioned how effective the restrictions would be.

“The United States and the West have already imposed sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders over the Rohingya conflict, so it would be meaningless to take similar action again.”

How is China likely to react?

Beijing has been fairly muted in its response to the events in Myanmar, with foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin saying on Tuesday that China hoped all parties could properly handle their differences under a constitutional and legal framework, and maintain political and social stability.

Xu said the situation was likely to make Chinese investors nervous about proceeding with projects in Myanmar and could have a detrimental impact on agreements planned between the two governments.

Heng said if the US did impose sanctions on Myanmar it might push Myanmar’s military government closer to Beijing.

But Xu said Myanmar “won’t just rely on one country”.