Rohingya crisis dents Myanmar hopes of Western investment boom

When officers from Myanmar’s business capital Yangon toured six European nations in June, they have been hoping to drum up funding in transport, vitality and training.

As a substitute, they have been bombarded with questions concerning the nation’s remedy of the Rohingya Muslim minority, who’ve lengthy complained of persecution by the Buddhist majority within the oil-rich, ethnically divided, western state of Rakhine.

“In every of each nation, that concern was at all times introduced up,” Hlaing Maw Oo, secretary of Yangon Metropolis Improvement Committee, advised Reuters after the 16-day journey.

The state of affairs in Rakhine has worsened dramatically since then, with greater than 400,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh to flee a army counterinsurgency offensive the United Nations has described as “ethnic cleaning”.

Western commerce and funding in Myanmar is small, however there have been hopes sequence of reforms this 12 months would prise open an economic system stunted by worldwide sanctions and a long time of mismanagement beneath army rule.

With most sanctions now lifted, an anticipated flood of Western cash was seen as a key dividend from the transition to civilian rule beneath Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Regional diplomats noticed it balancing China’s rising affect over its neighbour.

Louis Yeung, managing principal of Yangon-based funding agency Faircap Companions, stated considered one of his enterprise companions – a listed, US-based meals and beverage firm – determined to carry off its plan to enter the Myanmar marketplace for three to 5 years, citing elements together with slower-than-expected reforms and the Rohingya disaster.

“Their conclusion is that it wasn’t the suitable time for them,” he stated. “They wish to see extra traction from the federal government and Rakhine isn’t useful.”


The strain has been rising in current months, even on current buyers, with rights group AFD Worldwide calling on overseas corporations to cease investing in Myanmar.

A small group of buyers in US oil main Chevron filed an unsuccessful movement at its annual common assembly urging it to drag out of its manufacturing sharing contract with a state-run agency to probe for oil and fuel, whereas Norwegian telecoms agency Telenor, which runs a cellular community in Myanmar, issued a press release calling for human rights safety.

Chevron declined to touch upon its funding in Myanmar, whereas Telenor didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark.

Bernd Lange, chair of the European Parliament Committee on Worldwide Commerce, stated final week his delegation postponed a go to to Myanmar indefinitely, saying the human rights state of affairs “doesn’t permit a fruitful dialogue on a possible EU-Myanmar funding settlement”.

Khin Aung Tun, vice-chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, advised Reuters international corporations planning to carry conferences in Myanmar have been now contemplating different places.

“Folks have been simply beginning to see Myanmar as a ‘excellent news’ story,” stated Dane Chamorro, head of South East Asia at Management Dangers, a world threat consultancy.

“Now you possibly can think about a boardroom wherein somebody mentions Myanmar and another person says ‘maintain on, I’ve simply seen one thing on Myanmar on TV: villages burned down, refugees, and many others’.”

In an interview revealed in Nikkei Asia Evaluation on Thursday, Suu Kyi acknowledged it was “pure” for overseas buyers to be involved, however repeated her view that financial improvement was the important thing to fixing poor Rakhine’s long-standing issues.

“So investments would really assist make the state of affairs higher,” she stated.


Myanmar’s $70 billion economic system ought to be a powerful funding proposition for Western corporations. It boasts massive oil and fuel reserves and pure sources similar to rubies, jade and timber. Wages are low and its youthful inhabitants of greater than 50 million is keen for retail and manufacturing jobs.

In April, Myanmar handed a long-awaited funding legislation, simplifying procedures and granting overseas buyers equal remedy to the locals. A game-changing legislation permitting foreigners to purchase stakes in native corporations is anticipated later this 12 months.

“The funding situations have been bettering,” stated Dustin Daugherty, ASEAN lead for enterprise intelligence at Dezan Shira & Associates, a consultancy for overseas buyers in Asia.

Myanmar’s economic system might not endure a lot, nevertheless, if Western corporations shun the nation – or even when their governments have been to reimpose some sanctions, though that seems unlikely for now.

Suu Kyi has sought to deepen relations with China at a time when Beijing is eager to push tasks that match with its “Belt and Highway” initiative, which goals to stimulate commerce by funding in infrastructure all through Asia and past.

Myanmar trades with China as a lot because it does with its subsequent 4 greatest companions: Singapore, Thailand, Japan and India. None of that high 5 participated in earlier sanctions.

Commerce with the USA is just about $400 million and US funding is simply zero.5 % of the full. Europe accounts for round a 10th of funding, whereas China and Hong Kong make up greater than a 3rd, and Singapore and Thailand one other third.

Than Aung Kyaw, Deputy Director Basic of Myanmar’s Directorate of Funding and Firm Administration, advised Reuters European buyers may need “second ideas”, however he anticipated Asian buyers to remain put.

China is already in talks to promote electrical energy to energy-hungry Myanmar and pushing for preferential entry to a strategic port on the Bay of Bengal. In April, the 2 nations reached an settlement on an oil pipeline that pumps oil throughout Myanmar to southwest China.

“It’ll feed Aung San Suu Kyi straight into the palms of (Chinese language President) Xi Jinping,” stated John Blaxland, director on the ANU Southeast Asia Institute and head of the Strategic and Defence Research Centre.

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