Everyone’s frantic for a piece of the newly reformed Myanmar, not least its neighbour China, says Paul French, China editor
About 18 months ago this column deviated from China for a one-off focus on Myanmar. At the time the country was at the start of its transition from a military junta to civilian rule, which continues today. It was also re-emerging from behind the barriers of decades of international sanctions to start engaging with the outside world, which in turn was definitely gearing up to start looking for investment opportunities in Rangoon (Yangon).
The process since has been fairly frenetic, at least in terms of the number of corporate executive-filled jets landing at Yangon International Airport. Unsurprisingly Myanmar’s new civilian administration is also new at dealing with international business, but the Myanmar government is eager to welcome investment that could potentially raise living standards in a country long repressed. Some international companies have been involved in Myanmar for a long time, of course, and paid no attention to the sanctions. Beijing never signed up to the sanctions and, as a dictatorship itself, seemed to feel quite comfortable dealing with the unelected generals in a neighbouring country.
Myanmar was, and is, of major interest to China – gas and other energy deposits, a cheap labour force for low-end manufacturing on its doorstep as well as a potential consumer market and, via the old Burma Road, overland access direct from south-western China to the Indian Ocean. Chinese business and investment poured in. However, the end of the junta has forced Beijing to realign the
way it does things, now that the media spotlight is on Myanmar. more…