President Barack Obama and Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi meet in the Oval Office of the White House last month.(photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)
President Barack Obama made the decision one month after meeting with Myanmar State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi at the White House on September 14. In removing the sanctions, the US hopes for Myanmar to become a democratic and prosperous partner.
Normalization of relations
The US imposed sanctions on Myanmar in 1988 after the army seized control of the government and suppressed all opposition. The Clinton administration declared a state of emergency in Myanmar on May 20, 1997, declaring the army rule a threat to American security.
The US Congress issued a ban on American investment in Myanmar in 1997 and a ban on imports of Myanmar imported goods to the US in 2003. President George W.Bush in 2007 issued an executive order tightening previous sanctions.
Things changed after President Thein Sein took office in 2011, paving the way for a civilian administration.
In 2012 opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released.
Barack Obama became the first US President to visit Myanmar and the government lifted some trade and investment sanctions on Myanmar.
After the victory of the National League for Democracy Party (NLD) of Aung San Suu Kyi in the parliamentary election in November, 2015, the US began allowing American companies to do business at Myanmar’s airports and seaports.
When Myanmar's State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi visited the US, President Obama said he would restore the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for Myanmar.
Competing for more influence in Myanmar
The US’s removal of sanctions reflects an intention to increase its influence in Myanmar, particularly as China enhances its relations with Myanmar.
After the victory of the NLD party, China was the first country Aung San Suu Kyi visited. She said that despite global changes, Myanmar will continue to foster its relations with China.
The stronger its political, economic, and military relations with Myanmar, the more influence the US gains relative to China in the Asia-Pacific region. During Myanmar’s 50 years under sanctions, China gave it military and economic support and built an energy pipeline through the Indian Ocean.
Although the US says its pivot to the Asia-Pacific region isn’t aimed at confronting China, a closer relation with Myanmar will benefit both countries. Myanmar’s reformers say cooperation with the US and its allies will reduce its dependence on China.