Issue Paper: Addressing Myanmar’s Challenges Will Require Engagement, Not Sanctions

NEW YORK, June 14, 2018 — A new issue paper published by the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) asserts that while the hopes and expectations for Myanmar’s political transition have not been met, the United States and other Western countries should reengage constructively with Myanmar to address its deep-seated challenges, rather than seeking to punish or coax the country forward through sanctions.

Debra Eisenman, ASPI’s managing director and author of the paper, writes that the violent persecution of the Rohingya minority group and intensified ethnic conflict, combined with poor government communications, sluggish economic reforms and development, a flawed constitution and unchecked military power, are critical challenges that Myanmar is facing.

“All of these challenges are undermining the creation or fortification of institutions of good governance, creating pressure points in Myanmar’s relations with the West and an opening that plays into existing geostrategic tensions,” Eisenman writes in the paper’s executive summary.

Eisenman urges the U.S. and other countries to consider a new approach to the Rohingya crisis that is not rooted in unilateral sanctions. This could include engaging new interlocutors with Myanmar, such as visits by congressional members; working more closely with partners in ASEAN, Japan, and South Korea to engage Myanmar; providing assistance in resettling Rohingya refugees; and pressuring social media platforms for improved processes to thwart hate speech and violence. Eisenman also encourages more robust support and investment across various regions of Myanmar.

The issue paper also advocates for a set of actionable recommendations for Myanmar’s government such as working to rebuild trust with ethnic armed organizations, developing better communications strategies, and accelerating economic development, including requesting technical capacity from partners and multilateral organizations. The paper also urges political parties to begin building the capacity of and fielding the next generation of candidates in the lead-up to the 2020 election.

On the plight of the Rohingya, Eisenman urges the Myanmar government to increase engagement with Bangladesh, give uninterrupted access to multilateral bodies such as the United Nations and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and provide the rights of national verification cards to the 200,000 Rohingya in central Rakhine, including freedom of movement.

Read here the full issue paper.

Watch here a discussion on Myanmar’s opportunities and challenges “Myanmar Up Close” with Debra Eisenman and former U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell.

About the Asia Society Policy Institute

With a solution-oriented mandate, the Asia Society Policy Institute tackles major policy challenges confronting the Asia-Pacific in security, prosperity, sustainability, and the development of common norms and values for the region. The Asia Society Policy Institute is a think-and-do tank designed to bring forth policy ideas that incorporate the best thinking from top experts in Asia and to work with policymakers to integrate these ideas and put them into practice. Its recent reports include Business Sector Action to Drive Carbon Market Cooperation in Northeast Asia and Shifting Trade Winds: U.S. Bilateralism and Asia-Pacific Economic Integration.