Officials in Washington talked of sanctions as targeted as the missiles deployed in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and the majority of activists in exile supported these claims.
Meanwhile, in Rangoon, government officials including Abel noted how Burma’s fledging garment industry had been devastated, forcing tens of thousands of woman out of employment and in many cases into prostitution, according to reports on the ground.
Privately, western aid workers talked of sharply rising HIV/AIDS rates in discos, massage parlors and brothels in Rangoon. Meanwhile Burma witnessed exceedingly low levels of government healthcare spending and only minimal financial aid from the international community, leading to a huge funding gap for medicine that persists – to a diminishing extent – to this day.
When the Global Fund – Burma’s main funder for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria treatment – pulled out of the country unilaterally, citing difficult operating conditions, aid workers losing money for their projects complained of behind-the-scenes pressure from the U.S.
Just over a year later, Washington led efforts to pass a U.N. Security Council statement on Burma “expressing deep concern … at the transnational risks posed by the situation in Myanmar” with HIV/AIDS the first example on the list. China and Russia issued a veto and the statement was shot down.
Economically, as the U.S. disengaged under Bush, Burma moved closer to China. But not only due to no-strings loans, grants, investment and trade.
In the late 1990s, former trade minister Abel started to make numerous trips to China – particularly Shenzhen – to study Beijing’s model for attracting industry. In doing so, Abel laid the foundations for closer economic ties between these two authoritarian neighbors, which Burma cashed in when times got hard for the junta in the mid-2000s.
“Reciprocity was not coming from the other side,” said Abel, referring to the U.S.