On Thursday, the United States unveiled new measures to punish the Myanmar army for its February 1 coup, and prevented the Ministries of Defense and Interior and major military conglomerates from practicing certain types of trade.
Washington has also subjected Myanmar to “end-use military” export controls, which require its American suppliers to seek hard-to-obtain American licenses to ship certain materials to it.
These measures were taken in response to an intensified crackdown by the Myanmar military against peaceful protesters opposing the takeover that ousted elected officials, including Leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the national elections in November.
Police broke up demonstrations with tear gas and gunfire in several cities across the country. The United Nations said at least 54 people had been killed since the coup. More than 1,700 people, including 29 journalists, were arrested.
President Joe Biden last month imposed sanctions on Myanmar on those responsible for toppling the civilian-led government in the Southeast Asian country, including the defense minister and three companies in the jade and gemstone sector.
The Commerce Department said in a statement on Thursday that the United States will not allow the Myanmar military to continue to benefit from access to many items.
The US government will continue to hold the perpetrators of the coup responsible for their actions.
The Commerce Ministry added that it is in the process of reviewing other possible measures.
The two clusters were identified – Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanmar Economic Holding Company Limited – Among those the military uses to control vast swaths of Myanmar’s economy through holding companies and subsidiaries, with interests ranging from beer and cigarettes to communications, tires, mining and real estate.
The Justice for Myanmar group said on Tuesday that the Interior Ministry, which leads the police, had purchased technology from US companies that was being used to monitor social media, among other uses.
Yadanar Maung, a spokesman for the group, praised the measures but urged more, including similar measures against the Ministry of Transport and Communications, which he said were used “as a decoration in front of the military and security forces to obtain surveillance and suppression technology.”
“Comprehensive and targeted measures, including a global arms embargo, are necessary to prevent the sale of weapons and technology that will enable the military to assert its brutal rule,” he said.
But these measures are expected to have a limited impact as the United States ships little to Myanmar annually, and the entities are not major importers.
“The volume of trade is small, so the effect is not going to be large,” said William Reinsch, a former Department of Commerce official. The biggest impact will be to pursue the financial assets of the military leaders of the coup.
The listing “will make it difficult for these entities to obtain technology that will enhance the military and other goods they may need,” Reinch said.
The United States government has yet to publish the tougher sanctions tool against military conglomerates, a tool that would prevent all transactions with American persons and expel designated companies from the American banking system.