20070925 myanmar protest 18
Buddhist monks march down a street in protest in Yangon, despite stern warnings from Myanmar's junta against the antigovernment protests. - 


KAI RYSSDAL: Protests continued in Myanmar today. Thousands of people took to the streets all over the country. Public demonstrations were first set off by rising fuel prices a week ago.

Late this afternoon, the government banned public gatherings of more than five people at a time. Today at the United Nations, President Bush called for more economic sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation.

Marketplace's Alisa Roth reports on how you sanction a country that has a shaky economy to begin with.

ALISA ROTH: Natural resources, especially natural gas, are the mainstays of Burma's economy. But there's not a lot of economic activity there. The government keeps tight control, the infrastructure is in terrible shape and the country is still very poor. The U.S. started imposing economic sanctions a decade ago.

BILL REINSCH: There's not a lot left to sanction -- Americans already don't do much business there, and they'll probably do even less. So I mean, it won't make a big difference.

Bill Reinsch heads the business organization the National Foreign Trade Council. He believes sanctions only work when they're imposed by groups like the United Nations, or at least several big countries.

REINSCH: You can't find very many cases, if any, where an action by a single country has made much difference, particularly in a global world market. The things that you are denying the target, whoever it is, can almost always be acquired somewhere else.

For Burma, that somewhere else is the rest of Asia. Ken Rodman teaches political science at Colby College:

KEN RODMAN: The fact that China, India, other Asian countries are engaging in normal business ties with Burma means that that impact is limited.

He thinks that would be true even if the U.S. forced American companies to divest from Burma completely, and compares the situation to Sudan where Western companies were finally pressured into leaving -- only to be replaced by Chinese and other non-Western companies.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.