Skip to main content

Celebrate Aung San Suu Kyi's victory -- ease sanctions on Myanmar

By Suzanne DiMaggio and Priscilla Clapp, Special to CNN
April 2, 2012 -- Updated 1131 GMT (1931 HKT)
Supporters pack a truck with the hope of seeing democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on her visit to her constituency for the parliamentary elections April 1, 2012 in Myanmar.
Supporters pack a truck with the hope of seeing democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on her visit to her constituency for the parliamentary elections April 1, 2012 in Myanmar.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to Myanmar's parliament
  • Her ability to take part in electoral politics is a sign of reform by the military leadership, authors say
  • U.S. has a complex web of sanctions enacted over many years against military regime
  • Authors: It's a good time to relax the sanctions to encourage economic growth, reform

Editor's note: Suzanne DiMaggio is vice president of global policy programs at the Asia Society (Follow her on Twitter). Priscilla Clapp is a retired minister-counselor in the U.S. Foreign Service and former Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Burma.

(CNN) -- Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's victory in Myanmar's by-elections on Sunday represents the nascent return of opposition politics to the country after nearly half a century of military rule. It also has created an opportunity for the United States to begin easing economic sanctions that are hindering reform.

Aung San Suu Kyi, kept under house arrest by the government for 15 years, won a seat in the parliament with a handy plurality.

Votes continue to be tallied, but reports indicate that her National League for Democracy (NLD) party captured most of the 45 seats up for grabs. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will maintain its grip on the majority of the 662 seats in the Union Parliament, but now opposition members will have a voice in lawmaking.

Suzanne DiMaggio
Suzanne DiMaggio

The international community should take this moment to encourage Myanmar's moves toward liberalization. For the United States, the time has come to seriously address its myriad financial sanctions on Myanmar to ensure that they are not working at cross-purposes with reform efforts.

Priscilla Clapp
Priscilla Clapp

The reformers in Myanmar believe that popular support for the political transition can be consolidated only if real improvements in the quality of life can be delivered to the country's poverty-struck masses and struggling middle class. They fear that if the country's economic decline is not arrested and reversed relatively soon, it will lead to widespread dissatisfaction and instability, threatening a return to harsh security measures.

The draconian application of U.S. financial sanctions is having a serious negative impact on legitimate economic actors in Myanmar who are struggling to institute positive changes. They are also impeding Americans who are working to assist in the reforms.

While those aspects of the financial sanctions aimed at inhibiting corrupt economic activity should be retained, they should be modified to ensure that they do not prevent legitimate financial transactions essential to the development of a vibrant private sector, that they allow wider assistance for capacity building which Myanmar so urgently needs, and that they contribute positively to the transformation of the country's banking and financial system.

Gradually easing the trade sanctions could help develop certain sectors of the economy as they begin to expand. Investment sanctions should also be reduced as the macroeconomic structures are reformed and anticorruption measures are put in place.

The complex web of U.S. sanctions targeted at Myanmar over the past 20 years includes five federal laws and four presidential executive orders, all of which require different conditions to be met for lifting.

Throughout the sanctions-building process, very little thought was given to how to unpack them if and when it was warranted. By necessity, this will be a gradual process, enabling the United States to continue to test the commitment of President Thein Sein's government to pursuing democratic reforms, halting conflict in ethnic areas and seeking a genuine political settlement and expanding individual freedoms and civic activity.

Some of Myanmar's new leaders are trying to move decisively in the direction of democracy, free enterprise, and the protection of human rights, which the United States has been advocating for decades.

To insist on solutions to all of the country's problems before sanctions can be relieved at all would be self-defeating. A more reliable measure of progress than the by-elections will come in 2015, when Myanmar plans to hold its next general elections.

By this time, the civilian population should have a better idea of whether the government is making sincere efforts to serve the public interest, whether it is safe to run for office and engage openly in political activity, and whether a new generation of socially responsible political and military leaders is emerging.

The United States should do all it can to help Myanmar get to this point.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT