Potential Backlash of EU Sanctions for People of Myanmar

Potential Backlash of EU Sanctions for People of Myanmar

Countries around the world have had conflicting responses to the military coup that removed Aung San Suu Kyi and replaced Myanmar’s democratically elected government with the Tatmadaw. While some countries, such as the United States, are choosing to target specific members of this junta, the EU is considering targeting military businesses with sanctions following the violent crackdown that has left 61 peaceful protesters dead. If the EU places sanctions on these junta affiliated conglomerates, a true quagmire will reveal itself, as the general population in Myanmar will be the most afflicted. 

Myanmar, formerly Burma, was a military dictatorship from 1962 until pro-democracy movements finally proved successful in 2010 and began implementing democratic institutions in Myanmar. During the 50 year military dictatorship, sanctions never led to democracy; it was only after the international community provided support to the pro-democracy movement that progress began to transpire. The struggle to build a democracy in Myanmar became increasingly apparent after their Army’s genocide against the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State was realized during 2017. When this revelation came to light, sanctions were placed on specific military affiliated individuals, but it was ultimately the textile, tourism, and investment sectors that suffered the most. If the EU places sanctions on military conglomerates, they will most likely be targeting Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) which would result in the barring of any EU member state from doing business with Myanmar, or investing in any of their enterprises. This could prove devastating to various industries, because the MEHL and MEC span across multiple sectors of the economy, including: mining, food service, tourism, telecommunications, banking, and manufacturing. 

The ramifications that could be unleashed on the general population will only compound the distress that the average worker in Myanmar has felt since the onslaught of the Coronavirus pandemic. While the garment industry is likely to suffer immensely, given their 600,000 workers, women working in these textile factories remain the most vulnerable, especially when paired with the gender inequality that already runs rampant in Myanmar. Targeting military conglomerates may prove more effective than sanctioning each and every business operating in Myanmar, however, since military conglomerates exist across so many economic spectrums, the entire economy is likely to be exploited despite the specification. The junta has stated that they do not fear sanctions, because they have grown used to their constraints throughout the years. It will inevitably be the impoverished workers that suffer the most, and for a system that has repeatedly betrayed them. The EU is set to decide whether they will target military owned conglomerates like the MEHL and MEC on March 22, 2021.

Since February 1, 2021, the date of the coup, other economic repercussions have been directed at Myanmar. The United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom have placed restrictions on members of the junta.  The UN Security Council has struggled to take any pervasive action against the Tatmadaw because UN members China and Russia will rally against it with their vetoes. The United States blocked the junta from accessing $1 Billion worth of Central Bank funds being held in the US. The United States has also blacklisted the Myanmar Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Home Affairs, MEHL, and MEC. They have also implemented an Export Administration Regulation, which requires a special license be obtained by US Suppliers in order to export goods to Myanmar. Meanwhile, the World Bank has suspended all funding to Myanmar.

If sanctions are placed on military conglomerates, Myanmar will be blocked from western partnerships and forcing them to enhance their trade partnerships with neighboring countries, such as China and Thailand, who will be thrilled by the increased trade. This scenario is highly likely to create a vacuum, and China will likely fill the void for the foreseeable future. A Chinese trade vacuum in Southeast Asia will prove dangerous both in the short term and the long term due to the economic power that China already possesses at the global level. Since China continues to have veto powers within the United Nations, the UN’s hands will remain tied from taking any serious actions against the kakistocracy put in place by the Tatmadaw in Myanmar. If Burma’s tainted history has revealed anything, it is that supporting the anti-coup resistance efforts is an effective measure for the international community to pursue. This can be achieved through media coverage, which the pro-democracy movement prior to 2010 has attributed to their success in the past. The EU’s sanctioning of military conglomerates will only catapult the burmese population into further economic turmoil, as the junta members remain sufficient enough to withstand that weight of economic sanctions on their enterprises.     


Categories: Politics, Southeast Asia

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