On Saturday, the military commemorated Armed Forces Day by killing about 140 people — including six children — in 44 cities and towns amid nationwide peaceful protests, according to local reports and activists. One of the children, 11-year-old Aye Myat Thu, was buried with her drawings and toys as her family mourned beside her.
It’s the largest number of people killed in a single day since the military ousted the country’s democratic government in a February 1 coup. Some 500 people have been killed in total since the military seized control.
Pressure from the international community on Myanmar’s military to relinquish control has been growing, with the United Nations special rapporteur for the country recently calling the junta’s campaign “mass murder.”
On Monday, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that the Biden administration would “suspend all US trade engagement” with Myanmar that occurs under a 2013 bilateral trade agreement. That won’t stop all $1.4 billion in trade between the two countries, but it will curb the trade relationship, namely by ending US support for initiatives that helped Myanmar integrate back into the world economy.
That may not seem like much, but experts on Myanmar’s conflict like Cornell University’s Darin Self say the move “will sting” because “cutting off trade is meaningful.”
USTR will suspend all U.S. trade engagement with Burma under the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.
— Ambassador Katherine Tai (@AmbassadorTai) March 29, 2021
“We continue to make clear that we will impose costs on the military regime for the deadly violence against peaceful protesters and the suppression of human rights,” Psaki continued, noting the new trade restrictions “will remain in effect until the return of democratically elected government.”
Beyond sanctions, “suspending trade is one of the few tools the United States has,” Self noted. After that, though, the US will have diminishing ways to actually apply pressure to the military junta. Short of President Joe Biden authorizing some kind of military intervention — a highly unlikely move — the chances of changing the situation on the ground are minimal.
If the US wanted to form a UN-backed coalition to intervene on humanitarian grounds, experts say Russia and China — two other permanent, veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council — would almost certainly deny that proposal to maintain their ties with the junta and mitigate the risk of widespread regional violence.