For example, in 2006 Myanmar was removed from an international list of states that supported money laundering, after it took steps to crack down on banks that were engaged in the practice (Myanmar removed from, 2006). The Financial Action Task Force praised Myanmar for its aggressive efforts to close rogue banks and prosecute their operators (Myanmar removed from, 2006).
In addition, Myanmar has taken successful steps to curb opium cultivation within its borders. The country, which had long been the second-largest opium grower in the world, trailing only Afghanistan, reduced opium cultivation by 83% from 1998 to 2006 (UN: Myanmar's 2006, 2006). This move was designed to appease not only the international community, but also China, where many of the illicit drugs being produced in Myanmar were ending up (Challenges to Democratization, 2001).
Quite clearly, Myanmar's decisions to crack down on money laundering and opium cultivation were in direct response to global and regional pressures and perceptions of Myanmar in the global community as a nation that turned a blind eye toward lawlessness.
Myanmar also reacted sharply after it was placed on the United Nation's permanent agenda, as a first step toward sanctions. The country's rulers blasted the measure as counter-productive, claiming the American actions were a violation of the UN's charter (Shea, 2006). Next, the ruling junta reconvened talks that had been stalled for months on a national constitution that would arguably bring democracy and human rights reform to Myanmar (Myanmar reopens, 2006). It is worth noting that these constitutional talks are seen by many as a farce, and they certainly have been used as a political bargaining chip in the past. In fact, the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has refused to participate in the talks and there were reports on government crack-downs on political dissidents in the period leading up to the talks (Myanmar reopens, 2006).
But, for the purposes of this discussion, we can set aside the issue of whether Myanmar's ruling party is committed to democratic or human rights reforms. The more important issue for our research is that Myanmar's ruling junta does seem interested in global opinion and is not completely disengaged. Myanmar's government cracked down on money laundering and opium cultivation to improve the nation's standing in the global and regional community. Also, the ruling junta, through its talks on a constitution, took steps -- half-hearted or not -- to beat back sanctions that could have a harmful effect on the nation's economy.
The picture that emerges of Myanmar's ruling party is of a group that is bent on preserving its power. However, the notion that the ruling party is completely disengaged from global politics, which would render steps like sanctions useless, does not appear to be completely accurate. Political pressure may one day provide a path to progress in Myanmar after all.
It is too early to tell whether any legitimate winds of changes are blowing in Myanmar, and, at any rate, change can not come soon enough for the millions of Myanmar residents who have lived too long under an oppressive regime. If political and human rights changes are ever to occur within Myanmar, a number of obstacles must first be overcome.
The United Nations must continue to press Myanmar's regime for change, using sanctions as a threat. Ultimately, nations such as China and Russia will make it difficult to apply such pressure, but it is an action worth taking if for no other reason than to keep Myanmar on the global front burner. Also, the United Nations may find that China and Russia eventually become more cooperative as they continue to do business with Myanmar and find that they have a strong economic interest in the nation's stability.
ASEAN also must take a leadership role in pressing Myanmar for reform. The regional organization, of which Myanmar is a member, has mostly taken a hands-off approach to Myanmar, adopting a policy of non-interference and focusing instead on economic issues. However, Myanmar is a black mark against Southeast Asia, which could damage ASEAN's ability to promote economic investment in the region. ASEAN has the power to influence Myanmar, and one day may be forced to use it in order to meet its mission of improving economic opportunities in the region.
Finally, groups such as the UN and ASEAN, as well as individual countries, can not be afraid to use sanctions as a tool for encouraging reform in Myanmar. The theory that Myanmar's ruling junta is too isolationist to be concerned about sanctions simply does not hold water. Myanmar's leadership has shown an aversion to economic penalties and a willingness to take some measures, even if half-hearted, when faced with threats. This knowledge should encourage nations and multi-national organizations to keep up the pressure on Myanmar, as such pressure may one day yield tangible results.
In the end, change in Myanmar will come from persistence. There are plenty of obstacles that stand in the way, such as resistance from the UN and ASEAN, as well as the actions of the Myanmar regime itself. But none of these things are necessarily permanent obstacles. Ironically, the groups and nations that most hinder pressure being applied to Myanmar would benefit most from its stability. A stable, democratic Myanmar will be a better economic partner for China, Russia and Myanmar's neighbors. We can expect that these nations, individually and through global and regional organizations, will eventually press for stability and reform in Myanmar. Until that time, the rest of the world must keep Myanmar front and center in the dialogue of global politics.
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