Myanmar’s return , EU should end sanctions and deepen ties with Naypyidaw
These have not been the best few weeks in Myanmar’s short, post-junta
history. Members of the country’s Muslim minority, roughly 4 per cent of the
60m population, have
come under vicious attack from some in the Buddhist majority.
central Myanmar, nearly 50 Muslims were killed in an orgy of violence. Some,
including children, were set on fire or hacked to death with swords. Local
police were accused of standing by while the violence unfolded. Ironically,
it took the arrival of the army – in the recent past, more often the villain
of the piece – to restore calm.
This may not, then, seem the best time to reward Naypyidaw by further
weakening the sanctions regime that was once the west’s main – if largely
ineffective – tool for trying to influence events on the ground. Yet the
time for sanctions is over. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, once their most stalwart
proponent, says as much.
that has its roots in pent-up hatreds and suspicion. If anything, peddlers
of anti-Muslim propaganda are taking advantage of the new-found liberties,
including a much freer press, that have accompanied post-2010 moves towards
democracy. To his credit, Thein Sein, the president, last week made an
impassioned speech against “political opportunists and religious extremists”.
If anything, he has been bolder in his condemnation of violence than Ms Suu
Kyi, whose political expediency has kept her quiet.Sanctions should not – and cannot – have any part to play in policing these
troubling developments. That is why, when the EU deliberates this month on
whether to restore Myanmar’s benefits under the generalized system of
preferences, it should do so. At the same time, it should permanently end
sanctions that were suspended – but not fully scrapped – last April. These
will lapse automatically on April 22 if member states do not object.
The best thing the west can do for Myanmar now is to deepen engagement
through responsible trade, business and diplomacy. The old sanctions regime
hurt Myanmar’s people far more than its then-military leaders, who profited
from selling gas and raw materials to China, Thailand and others. Now the
challenge for Myanmar’s leaders is to engineer economic growth that benefits
the general population, not just a gaggle of generals. Western trade and
investment have a role to play. The EU should take note.