Alex Massie

Burmese Days

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It may be counted a sign of progress - small, for sure, but real nonetheless - that the Guardian and Telegraph editorials this morning largely resist kneejerk calls for tightening sanctions on Burma in the wake of the absurd sentence given to Aung San Suu Kyi (though the Guardian spoils this by calling for action against companies that do business in Burma). The Times and the Independent, alas, demand more and better sanctions even though they must, surely, know that such sanctions, even were they to be agreed upon, would be unlikely to be applied.

I'm not as convinced as Thomas Bell is that trade can open up Burma to the world and that economic liberalisation must lead to political liberalisation but I hope he's right. Alas, I think we've seen that the rise of autocratic capitalism, especially in asia, means that the supposed link between trade and democracy is weaker than we once thought. Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear that the current sanctions regime and, for that matter, the policy of isolating the junta are not working. More to the point, while greater economic freedoms for theĀ  Burmese people might not topple the generals, greater economic opportunity would at least leave the Burmese better off, even if their liberty remained curtailed by international and even regional standards.

In other words, the sanctions help hurt the people they are designed to help while doing next to nothing to frustrate the ambitions of the people they are supposed to be targetting. Since the sanctions have been in place for 20 years without success, now might be a good moment to consider other options. Not that there are many attractive ones. Nonetheless, it's tough to suppose that isolating Burma is bad for the regime, far less good for the people of Burma.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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