Domestic Instability Is Holding Back Myanmar’s Economic Growth and Regional Vision

Domestic Instability Is Holding Back Myanmar’s Economic Growth and Regional Vision
Members of the honor guard stand at attention during a ceremony to mark Myanmar's 69th anniversary of its independence, Naypyidaw, Myanmar, Jan. 4, 2017 (AP photo by Aung Shine Oo).

Last month, Myanmar inked 16 different business deals with neighboring Thailand, ranging from cooperation in infrastructure to banking and agriculture. Myanmar’s fourth-largest foreign investor, Thailand hosts many migrant laborers from Myanmar, mainly in Bangkok and in the northwest along the border.

But Thailand is not the only country Myanmar is forging investment ties with. Singapore led with $4.3 billion in investment last year, followed by China, the country’s largest trading partner, with $3.3 billion. Last fall, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged $7.7 billion in development assistance.

As recently as 2011, China was Myanmar’s largest investor by a factor of more than five. But now Beijing is competing with a variety of other players in this new investment landscape. The controversial decision by Myanmar’s then-president, Thein Sein, to suspend the multibillion dollar Myitsone Dam project in 2011 in Kachin state shocked the China Power Investment Corporation and put Chinese investors on the back foot. With Myanmar’s military leadership seeking to end the country’s isolation through a shift toward managed democracy, Thein Sein announced to parliament that he was responding to popular pressure “to respect the people’s will.”

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