Normative Tensions: European Sanction vs. ASEAN’s Non-Interference in the Case of Myanmar

This article wants to highlight current change in the European Union (EU) foreign policy on Myanmar and the persistence of ASEAN’s non-interference principle and assess its theoretical implication. More than 15 years, Myanmar has become the target of sanction from the United States (US) and the EU due to its poor performance on human rights and democracy. In other side, ASEAN, Myanmar´s main trading partner, availability maintained constructive engagement strategy with Myanmar. Under Thein Sein´s regime, Aung San Suu Kyi is released and able to join by-election in April 2012. She and some NLD members won seats in parliament. Responding to the progress, ASEAN urged for western countries to lift out the sanction and the sanction is being lifted out. However, hundreds of political prisoners are still in jail and recently Myanmar army has done oppressive action toward Katchin ethic. Is Myanmar has done significant reform on human rights record? If not, what is the implication for normative power Europe theory?This article will be divided into four main parts: back-ground of Myanmar and EU sanction on Myanmar, theoretical framework of Normative Power Europe, Effectiveness of the EU sanction, Construction of Normative Power Europe and lastly the implication of EU’s policy to abandon the sanction.



Myanmar was independent in 1948 and Military Junta has been in power since 1962. Myanmar army or Tatmadaw has significant influence in Myanmar regime and has shaped three form of military regime: first, Burma Socialist Party (BSPP) under Ne Win leader-ship in 1962 and second, State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) commanded by Saw Maunin 1988 and lastly, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) under Than Shwe leadership in 1997.

In 1987, in an effort to combat inflation and black market, the Burmese government demonetizes (http:// myanmar.cfm,2012) several denominations of bank notes. The action renders 60-80 percent of money in circulation worth-less, triggering first protest demonstrations in more than a decade. Police mismanagement of a minor incident in Rangoon in March resulted in death of 42 students (Ibid). Pro-democracy demonstrations break out all over Burma; government responds with brutal crackdown on demonstrators, imposing curfew in major cities, detaining hundreds of protestors, closing universities.

In 1988, pro-democracy activists formed a political party named The National League for Democracy (NLD). Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the founders of NLD, emerged during the crisis as Myanmar’s democ-racy icon. She is the daughter of Aung San, a pivotal figure in the Myanmar independence movement in the 1940s. Demonstration reached its peak on 8 August 1988 when 700,000 peoples gathered and took long-marchin Mandalay and Rangon for campaigning national-wide protest (Ibid). Military junta responded the protest by pouring armies to the street and took oppressive action toward protesters. It is reported that 3,000 persons killed, 1,000 persons injured and 2,000 activists detained (Ibid). This tragedy is known as 8-8-8 uprising.

To appease the conflict, government held national election for choosing parliament members. In 1990, NLD won the election. However, military junta didn´t acknowledge the result and detained Aung San Suu Kyi and many pro-democracy activists and took over the government. Responding to power abuse by military junta, European Union imposed first sanc-tion to Myanmar by banning military export from EU member states to Myanmar. In 1991, EU renewed her previous sanction and added sanction including the ban on military cooperation with Myanmar. These policies were not binding to all EU member states. However, in October 1996, EU for the first time was agreed to make common position imposing visa ban toward all Myanmar officials. They are not allowed to visit all EU member states. In 2004, EU added sanction including a ban on EU companies to invest in Myanmar companies that are controlled by military (Commission, 2013) and additional sanction is imposed by EU in 2007 of import ban of wood, steel and gem products from Myanmar.

In 2011, Myanmar government under Thein Sein released Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. In by-election April 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi was elected as parliament member. Thein Sein has adopted several policies including legislation permitting trade union, creation of Human Rights Commission,cease fire with Karen ethic. Responding to the progress, the US and the EU have lifted some sanction. Human rights activists were questioning the policy because Myanmar was not considered improving human rights regime significantly.

In June 2012 communal conflict between Rohingya and Rakhine ethic in Arakan province erupted. Ten Rohingya men were allegedly dragged from a bus in the western state of Rakhine and killed by a mob of ethnic Rakhine in response to the rape and killing of a Buddhist woman by three Rohingya men(Zheng, 2012). Although the specific cause of this conflict between the Muslim Rohingya and the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists is still unclear, this outbreak of violence in and near Rakhine state’s capital city of Sittwe, has resulted in the death of at least 50 people and more than 2,500 houses and religious buildings set on fire, and more than 30,000 people forced to flee their homes (Ibid).UN reported that Rohingya people is the most persecuted minorities in the world (AFP, 2012). Government is not considered doing seriously in punishing the perpetrators and drafting peace resolution.

In December 2012 Asian Correspondent (Linn, 2012) reported that Myanmar army has launched comprehensive military operation against Katchin Independence Army, a paramilitary body of Katchin Independence Organization (KIO). According to media reports, there are more than 30,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Burmese government controlled areas and over 60,000 IDPs are currently taking refuge in KIO controlled areas (Ibid). Several hundreds of civilians continue to escape their native places because they are scared of bullets, bombs, forced labors, rape, torture and other forms of vio-lence. This humanitarian crisis raised global concern including from the United Nation, the EU and the US.


Some research has been made to evaluate the effectiveness of western states sanction to Myanmar. There are 6 countries imposing sanction to Myanmar up to date: the EU, the US, Canada, Japan, and Australia. Kryvoi (2007) and Eriksson(2005) men-tioned that the sanction is failed to achieve its objec-tives due to significant influence by China, India, Thailand and Singapore toward Myanmar economic performances. Meanwhile Burma Campaign (2004 )mentioned that they are not serious in implementing the sanction. It is reported that the sanction is not targeting key sector of Myanmar economy. This article attempted to explain the purpose of EU’s sanction on Myanmar using normative power Europe theory. It will look at the second purpose of EU’s sanction which is the creation of EU’s identity as novel actor. It will also discuss the implication of EU’s policy to postpone sanction on normative power Europe theory. Is the theory still relevant to explain EU sanction policy toward Myanmar? This research is using qualitative methodology with the method of literature analysis by gathering reports and first and secondary sources from official EU websites, online news media and INGOs´ reports.

Author : Verdinand Robertua