Australia was among a host of countries that imposed fresh sanctions on Myanmar on February 1, the third anniversary of the military coup. The government added five businesses to its list of 16 individuals sanctioned since 2021.
Australia has targeted two banks that help fund Myanmar’s junta and its arms purchases, the Myanma Foreign Trade Bank and Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank. The sanctions also target three other entities, Asia Sun Group, Asia Sun Trading Co Ltd, and Cargo Link Petroleum Logistics Co Ltd, for their role in supplying jet fuel to the security forces: the same fuel that the military has used to carry out unlawfully indiscriminate airstrikes against civilians.
Other governments had already taken action to limit the junta’s access to funding and jet fuel for the military. In June 2023, the United States sanctioned the two banks that Australia is now targeting. Canada has imposed comprehensive sanctions on jet fuel, while the European Union, United Kingdom and United States took steps to target Myanmar entities helping to purchase and supply jet fuel.
Until now, Australia has hesitated to impose more sanctions out of concern for its relations with member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). No ASEAN countries have unilaterally sanctioned the junta, and Australia joined with other governments to back the bloc’s ineffectual efforts to get the military to end its abuses.
Although Australia may have been slow to realize that targeted sanctions are crucial and need not compromise relations with ASEAN, they can still be effective.
The US action against Myanmar’s banks prompted Singapore to cut ties between its Singapore-based United Overseas Bank and corresponding banks in Myanmar. In December, the Myanmar central bank announced it would stop setting foreign exchange rates, suggesting the junta’s inability to access outside currencies. The sanctions are having an impact.
When it hosts a special summit with ASEAN members in Melbourne in March, Australia should press bloc members to enforce these sanctions in their own jurisdictions.
Stronger measures are still possible: Australia should consider imposing sanctions against companies and individuals in the extractives industries. The Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise and other military-owned mining entities still collect the lion’s share of revenue for the junta.
By taking a necessary step to help stop Myanmar military abuses, Australia shouldn’t stop now.