Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has a change of heart regarding US sanctions against her country. 

Author: Andrew Woodman

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, helped her country reach a surprising milestone during her first official visit to the US: President Barack Obama agreed to remove trade sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation.

The president—also a Nobel Peace laureate—has not specified precisely when the sanctions will be lifted, only that it will be “soon.” Myanmar will also be added to a list of developing economies to receive special trade status, allowing the duty-free import of around 5,000 products.

Suu Kyi—who initially supported the sanctions—was named Myanmar’s state counselor (a post similar to prime minister) after her National League for Democracy won elections last November; Suu Kyi is barred by the country’s constitution from becoming president because her husband and children are British nationals.

Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi changed her mind about sanctions.

“After she won the elections, she seemed to suggest that the US ought to keep its sanctions in place to put pressure on the military to allow her party to take power,” says Murray Hiebert, deputy director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

 Her stance has since changed, with the leader telling US officials that sanctions hold back investment and economic development in the country. Hiebert explains that the hope now is that investment will help increase transparency in business and reduce corruption in government.

With sanctions lifted, more US companies will consider investing in the country. Still, they are likely to proceed with caution, because of the tough economic environment, weak infrastructure and weak regulatory protections for foreign investors.

“Until now, the remaining sanctions and concern about possible reputational damage from engaging even unwittingly with one of the cronies on the blacklist held US companies back from actually investing,” Hiebert says.

Some say the move is premature, since the military still controls a quarter of the seats in Parliament and three cabinet posts. But that’s getting harder to rationalize.

“She herself said when she was in Washington that it really was now up to her government to sanction bad actors rather than looking to the US government to do it,” Hiebert says.               


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