By Francis Wade
Burma’s main opposition force will look to engage with Western nations in a bid to sharpen sanctions on the country, it said in a statement released today.
The announcement comes a day after the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, urged the US and EU countries to maintain an economic embargo that it claimed did not hurt the Burmese population, but instead found its target in the ruling regime.
The existing package however, which critics claim is riddled with holes that effectively allow Western companies to prop up the maligned junta, would likely need modification.
“The NLD calls for discussions with the United States, the European Union, Canada and Australia with a view to reaching agreement on when, how and under what circumstances sanctions might be modified in the interests of democracy, human rights and a healthy economic environment,” the statement said.
Suu Kyi herself has said that greater foreign investment, provided it is done carefully, could improve conditions for Burmese who have been “left behind”.
Burma ranked 132 out of 169 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index for 2010, eight places below Cambodia, the second-lowest ranking Southeast Asian nation.
The issue of whether sanctions on Burma should be maintained has long dogged debates about Western foreign policy: critics argue that they have had minimal impact, and will continue to do so given the soaring investment from regional countries that Burma is receiving.
Some also claim that the poor targeting of sanctions effectively amounts to a humanitarian boycott, with the quantity of overseas development assistance (ODA) going into Burma now lower than Cambodia, despite having a population three times the size.
Advocates say however that a tightening of the existing package to pinpoint members of the ruling junta will eventually reap rewards.
Whilst both US and EU sanctions block partnerships with named state-owned entities, EU sanctions do not stretch to enterprises, such as the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH), that are owned by the military, meaning European companies are effectively free to do business with the junta.
The statement responded to this problem by saying that “the economic hardships of the people would be ameliorated if businesses that have already invested, or are thinking of investing, in Burma were to observe guidelines aimed at conserving the ecological environment, protesting the rights of workers and prompting civil society”.