The removal of Western sanctions on Myanmar will be more
motivated by a desire to halt China’s growing
influence in the country than its gradual democratisation,
according to senior government officials.
The US last week announced will ease sanctions on the Southeast
Asian country in recognition of its burgeoning democratic
transition. It followed similar announcements from the EU,
Japan and Australia in the wake of successful by-elections in
the country last week.
Click here and here for exclusive IFLR
video footage of Aung San Suu Kyi inspecting polling
stations in her constituency on the morning of Myanmar's
The news prompted Myanmar
presidential economic adviser Set Aung to speak with
IFLR of his frustration that a targeted easing of
sanctions would leave the most damaging embargoes in place.
However, one senior official at the Myanmar Investment
Commission (MIC) told IFLR on Friday that the US would lift all
its trade embargoes on the country in time. But the move would
have very little to do with democratic change in Myanmar.
"This has everything to do with geopolitics and how the US
national interests have changed," he said. "The US is keen to
develop close relationships with Myanmar primarily because it
doesn’t want China to have undue influence
With Western sanctions limiting involvement in the region,
Myanmar has increasingly looked to China for investment
purposes. "The US regards itself as a world power," said the
MIC official. "But without a presence in East Asia it
can’t be a world power anymore."
For that reason, it is doing what it can to insure increased
involvement in the region.
"The detailed nature of US sanctions, and the huge number of
clauses included within them, make it impossible to remove them
quickly," he said. "But I know the US is encouraging the EU,
Australia and Japan to more closely assist us in the
Meanwhile, U Than Lwin deputy governor at the domestic private
bank, KBZ Bank, said Myanmar needed more encouragement from the
West instead of criticism.
"We are discussing peace agreements with the ethnic groups in
Myanmar," he said. "We are now more transparent, we held
by-elections in which the government accepted defeat. What more
do we need to do?"
He said the conditions imposed by the US sanctions pushed
Myanmar further into the arms of China.
"In the past we had no choice but to depend on China," he said.
"But China has been very aggressive in its involvement here. It
has been trying to influence policy, and that is not the way we
"We don’t want to be influenced by China; we
don’t want to be influenced by any country," he
said. "We want a friendly relationship with the West."
"What concerns me are that there are too many conditions under
which we must improve for sanctions to be lifted," he said.
"Myanmar is far ahead of China in terms of human rights, yet
there are no trade sanctions on China.
He added that even with the sanctions in place the country was
moving forward bilaterally, with the assistance of friendly
countries such as Japan and Norway.
US government last week nominated Derek Mitchell, the state
department’s special envoy to Myanmar, as the
first US ambassador to Myanmar since 1990.