Category Archives: Growth Matters

Myanmar: UN rights experts urge business ‘to take a stand’ against military junta

Unsplash/Alexander Schimmeck
Dusk approaches in Yangon, the commercial hub of Myanmar (file photo).

United Nations independent rights experts on Wednesday urged businesses in Myanmar to uphold their human rights responsibilities and apply pressure on the military junta to halt grave human rights violations against its own people.

While some businesses have reiterated their public support for the rule of law and human rights, and cut ties with the junta in the aftermath of the 1 February coup, many continue to engage in business with the military as if nothing has happened, Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, said in a news

As military leaders are intensifying their campaign of repression, companies must act in line with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to avoid contributing to human rights violations, or becoming complicit in crimes if they continue to operate in the country, the experts highlighted.

Surya Deva, Vice-Chair of the Working Group, said that because “the risk of gross human rights violations has greatly increased in Myanmar, action by States and human rights due diligence by business, and investors, should be rapidly and proportionately heightened”.

“Businesses, both individually and collectively, should exert the maximum leverage on the military in Myanmar to halt what the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said may amount to crimes against humanity”, Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews added.

Crackdown continues

Into its fourth month, the crisis in Myanmar – marked by near daily pro-democracy protests and a brutal crackdown by security forces – has reportedly claimed at least 782 lives. Countless more have been wounded and over 3,700 people are in detention, including many in situations that may amount to enforced disappearances.

Furthermore, over 1,500 arrest warrants have been issued against civil society activists, journalists, academics and others who oppose the coup, and military authorities are reportedly taking relatives of wanted people into custody to force them to turn themselves in.

“The revenues that the military earns from domestic and foreign businesses substantially enhances its ability and capacity to carry out these grave violations”, Mr. Andrews said.

A 2019 report by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar outlined several economic interests of the military in the country, including links with private and foreign companies and conglomerates.

In it, the Mission concluded that no business should enter into an economic or financial relationship with the security forces of Myanmar, in particular the Tatmadaw (as its military is known), or any enterprise owned or controlled by them or their individual members, until and unless they are restructured and transformed.

Suspend operations or consider exit

The experts also reiterated the Human Rights Council’s call for home States of businesses investing in Myanmar in any way, to take appropriate measures so that those businesses ensure their activities do not cause or contribute to rights violations.

Businesses which continue to operate in Myanmar should take all possible measures to protect their employees, support the exercise of all human rights by citizens, including the right to peaceful protests, and speak up to preserve civic space and the independence of the media, they said.

“There may come a point at which businesses might need to suspend operations or even consider exit from the country if risks of involvement in human rights abuse cannot be reasonably managed, while doing so in a manner to safeguard the well-being of workers and affected communities”, Mr. Deva said.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Credit: news.un.org

Business Lobby Group Demands US Envoy to Tackle Myanmar Crisis

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addresses the US-ASEAN Business Council in Washington in 2016. / US-ASEAN Business Council 

The US-ASEAN Business Council has called for Washington to appoint a special envoy for Myanmar, saying bold US leadership could help resolve the crisis.

A US special envoy could coordinate a strategic approach involving smart, targeted sanctions and create room for effective dialogue in tandem with allies, said the business council.

It urged President Joe Biden to empower a special envoy with a support base in the region by also swiftly filling US ambassadorial posts in Singapore and Thailand and for Asean, the 10-member regional body which includes Myanmar.

The council said: “The military coup threatens to reverse the political and economic progress made, as well as the country’s future trajectory.”

Recently, the United Nations Development Programme warned that all financial reports since the coup indicated Myanmar is approaching economic collapse.

Alexander Feldman, chairman of the business council, said: “The unfolding situation in Myanmar threatens economic collapse and imperils the lives of the people of Myanmar.

“The US government must fully equip and deploy its diplomatic arsenal in ASEAN to confront this crisis, which includes filling key ambassador posts in Southeast Asia and appointing a dedicated special envoy for Myanmar,” Feldman added.

“American leadership is necessary in this critical moment to realize a viable path forward for Myanmar and ensure stability in the region,” the chairman said.

The council plays an advocacy role for US corporations operating in ASEAN. In 2019, the council visited Myanmar to expand investment in the country along with the representatives of Amazon, Google, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Chubb, Diageo, Ford, Jhpiego, MasterCard, Visa, Abbott and BowerGroupAsia.

“The sooner the situation in Myanmar is seen and treated as an Indo-Pacific challenge on all fronts – political, security, humanitarian and economic – the better off all parties concerned will be”, said Jack Myint, country manager for Myanmar on the business council.

“Beyond the scope of great power competition, what we’re really looking at is a failed state waiting to happen at the heart of one of the most dynamic regions of the world. The US must do more and do better to tackle this head-on. There’s simply too much at stake,” Myint said.

Following the coup, the US imposed targeted sanctions on Myanmar’s military leadership. Trade sanctions followed in March against the defense and home affairs ministries and military-controlled conglomerates Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited.

In April, US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on a state-owned gems firm, Myanma Timber Enterprise and Myanmar Pearl Enterprise in a bid to cut financial lifelines for the junta.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has faced criticism that it has not acted strongly enough against Myanmar’s junta.

A special meeting in Jakarta on April 24 with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing was widely seen as ineffective.

ASEAN’s leaders reached a five-point consensus, urging the junta to seek a political resolution through dialogue, accept the appointment of a special envoy to engage with pro-democracy groups and grant access to humanitarian assistance from ASEAN.

However, the junta responded that it would consider the proposals after the situation stabilizes and if its five-step roadmap was followed. The regime claimed its roadmap served Myanmar’s national interests.

Credit: www.irrawaddy.com

Telenor writes off Myanmar business after coup, posts Q1 loss

Telenor’s logo is seen in central Belgrade, Serbia, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica/File Photo

Norway’s Telenor (TEL.OL) wrote off the value of its Myanmar operation in light of the country’s deteriorating security and human rights situation, plunging the group into a first-quarter loss and sending its shares lower on Tuesday.

While it will continue to operate in Myanmar, Telenor’s mobile business in the Asian country, where it has had a presence since 2014, remains severely restricted following the military’s seizing of power in a Feb. 1 coup. read more

The new regime imposed network restrictions for all operators, and on March 15 ordered a nationwide shutdown of mobile data that has since cut Telenor’s subscription and traffic revenues in the country in half, the company said.

However, it still added some 2 million users in Myanmar during the quarter as call volumes rose, increasing its local customer base to 18.2 million.

“Telenor calls on the authorities to immediately reinstate unimpeded communications and respect the rights to freedom of expression and human rights,” the company said in a statement.

While Telenor saw an “irregular, uncertain, and deeply concerning situation” with “limited prospects of improvement going forward”, Telenor would stay in Myanmar for now, CEO Sigve Brekke said.

“We still believe we are making a difference when keeping our operations running,” he told an earnings presentation. “We strive to continue to do so to the best of our ability.”

The company declined to comment on whether it was realistic to expect any cash flow from the Myanmar operation for the time being, with Brekke adding that the current uncertainty made it impossible to comment on future options.

“Our continued presence will depend on the development in the country and the ability to contribute positively to the people of Myanmar,” he said.

WRITE-OFF

Telenor fully impaired Telenor Myanmar in its first-quarter accounts, booking a loss of 6.5 billion crowns ($783 million) and removing the operation from its overall corporate outlook for 2021.

As a result of the writedown, the Telenor group’s net earnings slumped to a loss of 3.9 billion Norwegian crowns in the first quarter from a year-ago profit of 698 million crowns.

Telenor shares were down 2.0% at 0913 GMT, lagging a flat Oslo benchmark index (.OSEBX).

Adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) fell 8% year-on-year to 13 billion crowns, in line with an analyst forecast of 13.1 billion crowns.

Telenor reiterated full-year guidance for overall organic revenue and earnings to remain unchanged year-on-year from 2020, excluding the Myanmar impact. It repeated that capital expenditure would amount to between 15% and 16% of sales.

Credit Suisse, which holds a neutral rating on the stock, said the guidance technically amounted to a downgrade due to the exclusion of Myanmar, which represented 6% of group revenue and 7% of EBITDA last year.

“The Asian operations otherwise delivered a decent performance in Thailand and Malaysia offset by Myanmar and there was some weakness in the Nordics as the competitive environment remains tough in markets like Sweden and Norway,” the bank said.

The company, which serves 187 million customers in nine countries across Europe and Asia, a net gain of 5 million since the start of the year, last month announced plans to merge its Malaysian unit with competitor Axiata (AXIA.KL), seeking to form a new market leader. .

www.reuters.com

Philippines’ Ayala takes ‘long-term’ view on Myanmar amid crisis

Ayala CEO Fernando Zobel de Ayala says the Philippine conglomerate is preparing for a post-coronavirus economic recovery. (Source photos by EPA/Jiji and screenshot from Ayala’s website) 

Subsidiaries eye bid for Citi’s local business, healthcare and logistics investments

MANILA — The Philippines’ oldest conglomerate Ayala is taking a “long-term” view and a “wait-and-see” approach on Myanmar, executives said on Friday, even as a coup has forced other foreign businesses to exit or halt investments there.

Ayala, whose key interests are in real estate, banking and telecommunications, in 2019 announced a $237.5 million bet on Myanmar through a strategic partnership with Yoma Group, a local conglomerate controlled by tycoon Serge Pun. The Philippine company had eyed opportunities in various sectors from power to financial services.

Ayala managing director and head of its power unit Eric Francia said the group is looking at its Myanmar investments “from a long-term perspective.”

“While there is obviously a concern on a lot of issues, we remain steadfast in our long-term outlook,” Francia said during an online media briefing following the company’s shareholders meeting.

“We will just continue to work with our partners to make sure that our investments are prudently managed, and then we will take appropriate actions as the developments evolve.”

Francia’s remarks come as Southeast Asian leaders prepare for a summit in Jakarta on Saturday to tackle the Myanmar crisis, which was triggered by a military coup in February and has led to the detention of de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and bloody street protests.

“The situation on the ground is extremely sensitive,” Ayala head of corporate strategy Paolo Borromeo said. “Obviously, projects and businesses stopped. But at this stage … I think the most prudent thing to do is to wait and see and ensure the safety of our partners’ employees.”

Other companies have taken drastic steps as turmoil engulfed what was previously regarded as Southeast Asia’s “last frontier market,” with investors lauding reforms taken following its transition to democracy a decade ago. Japanese brewer Kirin Holdings said it would pull out from a joint venture with a company linked to the junta, while Thai developer Amata has suspended a $1 billion industrial estate project in the country.

Myanmar was the latest destination in a regional expansion by Ayala that has also taken the company to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.

At home, Ayala, the country’s second most valuable listed conglomerate, is gearing up to resume expansion after pandemic-induced business disruptions halved the company’s net income to 17.1 billion pesos ($351 million) in 2020.

Ayala has earmarked 196 billion pesos for capital expenditure this year, largely for its real estate and telecommunications businesses. The company also plans to boost investments in newer ventures such as health care and logistics, which saw greater demand amid the pandemic.

“I think we will see a period here where we will be mainly focusing on our current businesses. There are no imminent plans to enter new sectors right now,” said Fernando Zobel de Ayala, who on Friday officially took over as the chief executive, replacing his brother Jaime Augusto, who occupied the position for 26 years. Jaime Augusto remains the Ayala chairman.

On health care, the company plans to open the country’s first cancer hospital by 2023. In February, Ayala’s AC Health unit acquired a majority stake in Qualimed Health Network, expanding its portfolio to four general hospitals, 85 outpatient clinics and 80 corporate clinics.

Logistics arm Entrego, meanwhile, is in talks with several family-owned logistics companies “to partner with some of them” amid a boom in e-commerce, said Jose Rene Almendras, who heads Ayala’s infrastructure and logistics businesses.

Meanwhile, Ayala-led Bank of the Philippine Islands has expressed interests in bidding for the local retail banking business of Citigroup, which the U.S. company plans to divest as part of a regional restructuring.

“Citibank runs excellent operations in the Philippines, which we believe are complementary to BPI’s operations and therefore we would be interested,” said bank president Jose Teodoro Limcaoco during the shareholders’ meeting.

Ayala is pinning its hopes on the Philippines’ vaccine rollout to pave the way for an economic recovery, even as the country wrestles with its worst COVID outbreak, which has overwhelmed hospitals and prompted stricter lockdown measures.

“We are cautiously optimistic about the business environment and will continue to prepare for a postpandemic economic recovery,” CEO Zobel said.

Creedt: asia.nikkei.com

Military coup clouds control over jade, gems in Myanmar

Buyers examine jade stones on sale ahead of an auction during a Gems Emporium in Naypyidaw. Jade and other gems have long been a lucrative source of income for the military [File: Hein Htet/EPA]

Opposition to the military’s coup has boosted ethnic armed groups, creating a new challenge to its lucrative jade and gems business.

Life in Myanmar’s jade-producing regions was always difficult and precarious but since the military seized power from the civilian government on February 1, it has become even more dangerous.

In Kachin State’s Hpakant township, which has the world’s largest and most lucrative jade mines, there are more soldiers and police, access to mining sites has become more difficult and local markets have stopped operating.

“Many places are dangerous to dig jade now. There are only a few places where we can dig by hand or small machine,” said Sut Naw, a local miner who preferred to use a pseudonym for security reasons.

Police and soldiers are now guarding company compounds, he added, patrolling roads day and night. They also stop people on the streets or in their vehicles, checking for jade and other valuables and searching through people’s phones for evidence of resistance to the coup.

“I have seen many zombie movies, but never realised that I would be living in a similar environment,” he said. “People don’t go out at all unless they have to.”

The military has long dominated Myanmar’s jade industry and continues to rake in immense profits. Myanmar’s annual jade and gems emporium, held from April 1 to 10, brought in $6.5m on the sixth day alone, according to state media.

Lucrative resource

In 2015, the environmental watchdog Global Witness valued Myanmar’s jade industry at $31bn and described it as possibly the “biggest natural resource heist in modern history.” Identifying the Tatmadaw and armed elites as the industry’s biggest profiteers, the exploitation of jade was “an appalling crime that poses a serious threat to democracy and peace in Myanmar,” it said.

Keel Dietz, a Myanmar policy adviser with Global Witness, told Al Jazeera that with the Tatmadaw now in total control over the formal governance of natural resources, they were likely to step up that exploitation.

“There is a huge risk that the military, in their desperate efforts to maintain control, will look to the country’s natural resource wealth to sustain their rule, to buy weapons, and enrich themselves,” he said.

Escalating clashes between the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of an ethnic armed group in the resource-rich northern state and the military, known as the Tatmadaw, have raised questions over the control over the jade mines.

Before a 1994 ceasefire, the Kachin Independence Organization, which has been fighting for federal rights to self-determination since 1961, controlled most of the mines and local people were able to enjoy a share of the wealth through small-scale mining activities. The KIA is its armed wing.

The ceasefire saw most of the jade-mining region nationalised under a military government known for exploiting resources without regard for the social and environmental consequences.

The state-owned Myanmar Gems Enterprise took control over the regulation of mining activity and issuing licences, which it signed over to itself and to companies that benefitted its interests, including proxy companies, companies run by military cronies and those connected to armed actors including the United Wa State Army, which runs its own special administrative region on the China border and has a history of links to drug trafficking.

These companies levelled mountains, dug enormous trenches and dumped waste with impunity.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants flocked to the area, dreaming of digging their way to prosperity but found themselves scavenging through company waste heaps; if they found a big stone, it was confiscated by soldiers.

The natural environment was destroyed, landslides and mining accidents claimed hundreds of lives, and drug abuse skyrocketed – all while the Tatmadaw pocketed handsome profits.

Shortly after winning elections in 2015, the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to reform the industry and in August 2016, suspended the renewal of mining licences and the issuance of new ones.

But companies bypassed the suspensions with impunity, and the NLD government was widely criticised by rights groups for failing to bring meaningful changes to the jade industry. In July 2020, more than 170 people were buried in a landslide in a Hpakant jade mine.

“The government and military have never respected natural resources,” said Ah Shawng,* a land and Indigenous rights activist in Hpakant. “They extract resources as they wish and only for themselves. .. Our natural resources are all disappearing and being destroyed.”

But since the coup, resistance to centralised policies and the exploitation of ethnic people and the land and resources in their states appears to be rising.

Shifting allegiances

The 2008 military-drafted constitution, which centralised land and resource management at the union level and entrenched Tatmadaw power, was abolished on March 31 by officials forced out by the military. In its place, they put forward an interim Federal Democracy Charter.

Mainstream support for armed resistance to military rule has also increased, as the Tatmadaw arrests thousands and indiscriminately shoots civilians. Some 739 people have been killed, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which is tracking the violence.

With ethnic armed groups, including the KIO, in a position to offer protection and help fight back against the generals, ethnic minorities’ struggles for self-determination under a federal system, which were once largely ignored by the majority Bamar public, are now increasingly popular. Pro-KIA demonstrations have been held across Kachin State and even in central Myanmar, while the number of recruits is rising.

Although the KIA and Tatmadaw have been at war since the ceasefire collapsed in 2011, fighting had slowed since 2018.

But since the coup conflict has escalated.

Clashes have been taking place nearly every day. The KIA, so far, appears to have the upper hand – it has taken several Tatmadaw bases and claims to have obliterated entire battalions, killing hundreds of soldiers.

Some of the most intense fighting has occurred in and around Hpakant, where Ah Shawng, the local rights activist who also prefers to use a pseudonym for her security, says most locals support the KIA.

“Now, when [junta] forces harm people, the KIA protects and stands with us,” she said, adding that the KIA had been successful in driving out some security forces from the area.

On March 28, the KIA killed about 30 policemen who had raided a jade mining site operated by the Taut Pa Kyal mining company, according to Kachin State-based media reports.

The company, according to a BBC Burmese article, is backed by the Kyaw Naing company, which has 64 licenced mining sites and failed to disclose a military crony among its beneficial owners in 2020. Days later, a photo circulated on social media of a police station, allegedly at another company jade mining site in Hpakant, bearing a white flag of surrender to the KIA. Al Jazeera contacted the KIO to verify the incidents but they declined to comment on matters related to Hpakant.

The KIA may be fighting to gain control of other areas as well – including some areas beyond Kachin State.

Local news agency Myanmar Now reported on April 15 that the KIA and Tatmadaw had clashed in Mogok, a city in Mandalay region hundreds of miles from Kachin State.

Mogok’s mines possess the world’s most valuable rubies, as well as other lucrative gemstones. On April 16, a group of youth in Mogok staged a pro-KIA march and drew a large “Welcome KIA” banner on the street. The next day, the military forces gunned down at least two people in the city.

Sanctions, import bans

The United States has already imposed sanctions on Myanmar Gems Enterprise, as well as on two military holding companies, Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited (MEC). This week, the European Union also added MEHL and MEC to its sanctions list.

Dietz of Global Witness told Al Jazeera that while the sanctions were “hugely important,” they were likely to have only a limited effect on the jade sector without the support of China, which serves as the primary market for Myanmar’s jade, a highly prized luminous green stone.

“Global Witness encourages the international community to place import bans on all jade and coloured gemstones coming from Myanmar,” he said.

He also expressed concern that as the Tatmadaw finds itself squeezed of funds, it might try sell off resource concessions in exchange for fast cash.

“The international community should make it clear to commodity trading firms and other investors in natural resources that now is not the time to be making large new resource deals in Myanmar – the military regime is not a legitimate government, and should not be allowed to sell away Myanmar’s remaining mineral wealth to sustain itself,” he said.

Tu Hkawng the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation under the newly-formed interim National Unity Government running in parallel to the generals’ administration, told Al Jazeera that it was time to bring natural resource management back into the hands of the local people.

Appointed on April 16, he has already begun engaging with local stakeholders to reform natural resource management policy through the lens of Indigenous rights.

“We are trying to build a collective leadership … to engage more with the grassroots-level community and solve the problems together,” he said. “This is a bottom-up approach. In order to achieve it, we have to build a network with every stakeholder and collaborate.”

He hopes that by addressing natural resource governance, the civil wars that have plagued the country for the past 70 years can finally be brought to an end.

“Every ethnic group has the right to manage and benefit from the natural resources on its own land. Right now we don’t have that,” he said. “If everyone gets to govern their own land, we won’t have to fight any more.”

*Names have been changed to protect the security of those interviewed, at their request.

Credit: www.aljazeera.com

China’s BRI Dream Could Turn Nightmare As Myanmar Puts ‘Roadblocks’ Before Key Infra Projects

A file picture of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi (right) with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi. (via Twitter)

Unlike China’s ‘iron brother’ Pakistan, which has rolled out the red carpet for its BRI projects, Southeast Asian nation Myanmar is set to clip the wings of the dragon.

China may be aiming to conquer the world with its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) undermining local sentiments in certain host countries, but the dragon is not invincible it seems. Myanmar is one country where citizens are resisting aggressive and intrusive policies Beijing is known for.

A global infrastructure strategy, BRI reflects President Xi Jinping’s dream of taking China to the ‘numero uno’ spot in the world. It envisages road, rail, and port projects in six economic corridors spread across Southeast Asia, South Asia, Middle East, Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe.

No wonder, the Communist regime has already incorporated the BRI in the country’s Constitution as China plans to invest $1.5 trillion in the next decade.

According to global financial services group Nomura, more than 80 countries are likely to benefit from the BRI project. At the same time, it “will have enormous economic, geopolitical and investment implications for China”, Nomura warns. 

What is then that Myanmar is not happy about? The Southeast Asian nation is not in favor of China having a monopoly in key infrastructure projects in the country. One such example is the Yangon Mega City Project under BRI. In July last year, Naypyitaw had allowed other foreign partners besides China Communication and Construction Company to join the project in order to cut Beijing to size.

The Chinese firm was accused of corruption in as many as 10 Asian and African countries where it is undertaking infrastructure development projects, The Economic Times reported.

The Yangon Mega City Project is part of the China-Myanmar Economic (CMEC) aimed at connecting China’s southwestern Yunnan province with Mandalay, Yangon, and Kyaukphyu in Myanmar.

Another hurdle before China’s BRI comes from the rebel-infested Kachin state where China plans to build the Myitkyina Economic Development Zone (MEDZ) along the World War-II Ledo Road that originates in Assam. As experts have pointed out, China’s ultimate aim may be to bring India under the purview of its BRI.

However, the project to be undertaken in collaboration with the Kachin state government is mired in allegations of land grab and lack of transparency, as reported by The Irrawaddy.

It said ethnic landowners within the project site expressed concerns over “possible land confiscations”. Even local politicians feigned ignorance about the details of the project proposed on 4,700 acres of land.

The report sounded an alarm over China-backed projects in Myanmar, ahead of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to the country this month. 

“It has long been the view in Naypyitaw that Myanmar should be pragmatic in dealing with China,” and goes on to say that “Myanmar should be the one proposing projects to China, rather than the other way around”.

The editorial minces no words in flagging concerns that “the BRI and CMEC projects will give China increased control over Myanmar’s wealth along the economic corridor—such a strategy allows China to exert economic control without ever having to resort to military coercion”.

Such an expression is rooted in the public anger over China-initiated mega projects in Myanmar that seem to have undermined people’s grievances and environmental concerns.

Now, contrast this with what Pakistan has been doing all along vis-à-vis the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, also part of the BRI. In 2018, then-Pakistan PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi hailed this as a “game-changer” for his country. 

Then, Pakistan has allowed fencing of the port city of Gwadar in Balochistan despite objections from the local population who fear it will turn the town into a “Chinese colony”, restricting their free movement. A part of the CPEC, the deep seaport is built and operated by China.

Credit: eurasiantimes.com

Kirin fails to dispel doubts on military-linked Myanmar partner

Myanmar Brewery, a joint venture between Kirin and Myanma Economic Holdings, is the dominant beer company in the southeast Asian country and widely known for its flagship brand, Myanmar Beer.   © Getty Images

Reputational risk casts shadow over beer joint ventures in emerging market

Japanese beverage maker Kirin Holdings on Wednesday announced that its audit of the financial and governance structures of its business partner in Myanmar failed to produce results due to a lack of information from its counterpart.

Kirin commissioned Deloitte Tohmatsu Financial Advisory to conduct an independent assessment of its partner, Myanma Economic Holdings, in June. “Unfortunately, the assessment was inconclusive as a result of Deloitte being unable to access sufficient information required to make a definitive determination,” Kirin said in a statement.

MEHL is one of two big military-linked conglomerates in the Southeast Asian country, along with Myanmar Economic Corporation. It operates a wide range of businesses, ranging from finance, to agriculture, to mining. Kirin has two joint-venture companies with MEHL, Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery, holding a 51% stake in each.

MEHL has close ties to the military, which has been accused of massacring Muslim minority Rohingyas and destroying their villages. Critics say MEHL offers a conduit for finance that bypasses formal civilian government channels. The purpose of Kirin’s assessment was to determine where proceeds from the joint-venture businesses end up.

A U.N. fact-finding mission published a report in 2019 listing dozens of foreign companies linked to the military-related conglomerates, including Kirin, and warned that the relationship “poses a high risk of contributing to, or being linked to, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.”

The failure of the investigation to clear up doubts surrounding MEHL could expose Kirin to even greater reputational risk.

“[W]e remain committed to urgently finding a solution that is consistent with our approach,” the drinks maker said in the statement. “A further update on our plans will be provided by the end of April 2021,” it added. Following the announcement, a Kirin representative told Nikkei Asia that the company will seek options for a transparent system to ensure that none of the proceeds from the joint ventures are used for military purposes.

Kirin decided in November to suspend all dividend payments from Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery to shareholders in Kirin and MEHL “in view of a significant lack of visibility regarding the future business environment.” On Thursday, Kirin stated that the suspension will continue.

“It is wholly unacceptable for any proceeds from our Myanmar joint ventures to be used for military purposes, which is the fundamental condition of the joint-venture agreement,” the Japanese company said. “Kirin takes its responsibilities in Myanmar seriously, and will continue to take the necessary action to ensure its business activities in the country adhere to the highest standards,” it added.

According to a Kirin disclosure, Myanmar Brewery had 32.6 billion yen ($316 million) in sales and 12.9 billion yen in what Kirin calls normalized operating profit for the year ended December 2019. That amounted to 6.8% of the group’s total normalized operating profit.

Myanmar Brewery is the dominant beer maker in Myanmar and is widely known in the country for its flagship Myanmar Beer brand.

The Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business recently reported after meeting with the management of directors of MEHL that at present most of the company’s profit comes from Myanmar Brewery. The Yangon-based civic organization said MEHL’s financial statement for the fiscal year 2018/2019 “appears to show income from operating activities and other income totaling approximately $110 million.”

According to the U.N. mission and the civic group, MEHL has a body called the “patrons group” that oversees the board. It is headed by the Myanmar military’s commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. The same explanation is given in a document obtained by Nikkei Asia from a source close to MEHL.

The conglomerate’s shareholders include a number of military organs, such as “regional commands, divisions, battalions and troops,” apart from individual shareholders, who are all serving or retired military personnel, according to international human rights group Amnesty International.

Credit: asia.nikkei.com

In New Year speech, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi announces contract to get COVID-19 vaccine from India

Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi wears a face shield and mask as she attends a flag-raising ceremony for the National League for Democracy (NLD) party to mark the first day of election campaigning in Naypyidaw, Myanmar on Tuesday Photograph:( AFP )

In her New Year’s address to the nation, Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has announced that her country will get the COVID-19 vaccine from India and that a contract has been signed regarding it. 

 “The purchase contract for buying the first batch of the vaccines from India has already been signed. As soon as the authorities concerned in India have issued permission to use this vaccine, we have made arrangements for the import of these vaccines into Myanmar,”

Last year the Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and Army Chief MM Naravane had jointly visited the country. The visit saw high-level assurances from India that Myanmar will be a priority when it comes to the vaccine. Shringla also handed over 3000 vials of Remdesivir as a symbol of India‘s commitment to helping Myanmar mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

Myanmar has signed MoU with the Serum Institute of India for Covishield. Over the weekend, India’s drug regulator gave approval for its use.

The state counsellor highlighted that the first priority group to get the vaccine will be medical professionals and medical personnel which will take place in February. 

“There is a lot of competition as all the countries of the world are trying to get this vaccine. However, we believe that the vaccination programme could be carried out all over the country step-by-step,” San Suu Kyi added.

“During the period when the vaccines are still not available, I wish to appeal to the people to abide by the health rules and regulations and give support to our efforts to beat COVID-19. Please be vigilant; please be patient. Please brace yourself by visioning the future. We are all in this together,” she added.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, India reaffirmed its position as the pharma capital of the world by sending medicines like HCQ, paracetamol to more than 150 countries. 

New Delhi also organised training to build capacity. In fact, for the neighbourhood, India has organized two training modules in which about 90 health experts and scientists have participated.

Credit: www.wionews.com

India Myanmar Thailand Trilateral (IMT) Highway: Location, significance, benefits and other details

The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway starts from India and goes to Thailand via Myanmar. Recently Bangladesh has shown its willingness to join the tripartite highway.

mIMT tripartite Highway

Why in News?

The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway starts from India and goes to Thailand via Myanmar. It is at the centre of transport diplomacy among ASEAN countries. Recently Bangladesh has shown its willingness to join the tripartite highway. 

About the IMT Trilateral Highway:

  1. The highway’s Imphal-Moreh portion on the Indian side, however, is expected to be completed only by 2023.
  2. It will be linking Moreh (India) -Bagan (Myanmar) -Mae Sot (Thailand)  
  3. This highway is expected to help greatly in the transport connectivity which is almost 3660 km long cross border highway network and is currently under construction, expected to be completed by 2021.
  4. The transnational highway connectivity was envisaged to enable trade from India to the other ASEAN nations.
  5. It was decided to extend the Trilateral Highway to Lao PDR and Cambodia to deepen the India-ASEAN Relations at the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit 2012.

Bangladesh’s desire to join:

  1. Bangladesh is interested in joining the IMT Trilateral Highway to enhance the connectivity with South East Asia. It wants to open new chapters in trans border corridors in the Indo Pacific Region. 
  2. Recently India Bangladesh Virtual Summit was held where the latter expressed its willingness to join the IMT Highway. Sheikh Hasina the Bangladesh PM wished Narendra Modi to help Bangladesh in its efforts.
  3. Also to commemorate the significance of the road from Mujib Nagar to Nodia on Bangladesh-India border during the Liberation War, Bangladesh proposed to name it as “Shadhinota Shorok”.
  4. Bangladesh wishes to join it now as BCIM, Bangladesh China India Myanmar corridor has made little progress. Also, India skipped the Belt and Road Forum which led to exclusion of BCIM Corridor from the list of projects covered by BRI.
  5. Bangladesh also wants to trade with Nepal through India. It wants to use Indian roadways to get its trucks into Nepal.

Benefits of the project

  1. The India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) highways project is aimed at opening the gate to ASEAN through the land. 
  2. The project will boost trade and commerce in the ASEAN–India Free Trade Area, as well as with the rest of Southeast Asia.
  3. Since India has been working towards increasing its engagements with South East Asia under its `Act East Policy’ the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the region.

India’s efforts under the project:

India has undertaken the construction of two sections of the Trilateral Highway in Myanmar. These are the 120.74 km Kalewa-Yagyi road section and 69 bridges along with the approach road on the 149.70 km Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) road section.

India requested for one Land Port without a negative list, starting with Agartala-Akhaura and for transportation of goods from Chattogram port to the North East of India. India also proposed that its trucks use the Feni Bridge, once it is complete.

Way Forward:

Recently India and Bangladesh have expanded their transport and connectivity routes. Sonamura Daudkandi Inland Waterway Route, Feni Bridge from Sabroom to Ramgarh and Haldibari Chilahati rail route are its examples. Leaving India aside now it is upto Thailand and Myanmar to accept Bangladesh to join IMT Highway. 

Credit: www.jagranjosh.com

Indian submarine INS Sindhuvir inducted into Myanmar navy

The kilo class submarine has a displacement of 3000 tonnes, a diving depth of 300 meters and top speed at 20 knots.

INS Sindhuvir commissioned as UMS Minye Theinkhathu in Myanmar Navy (Pic: Myanmar Navy)

Myanmar on Friday (December 25) officially inducted submarine handed over by India in the month of October. INS Sindhuvir was commissioned as UMS Minye Theinkhathu and inducted on the 73rd anniversary of the Myanmar Navy. During the commissioning ceremony, Indian ambassador to Myanmar Saurabh Kumar was also present along with top brass of Myanmar’s Navy.

The kilo class submarine has a displacement of 3000 tonnes, a diving depth of 300 meters and top speed at 20 knots. UMS Minye Theinkhathu is named after an ancient warrior and can operate for 45 days. It is equipped with 40 km range wire-guided torpedoes and 3M-54 Klub anti-ship cruise missiles. Myanmar has built a submarine base for it in a highly classified location.

Kilo class submarines are operated by Indian, Chinese, Russian and Iranian Naval forces and were designed by the Rubin Central Maritime Design Bureau, St Petersburg.

Credit: www.dnaindia.com