November 14, 2018
Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi wants the world to see her country as a business and investment opportunity waiting to be seized.
Suu Kyi made the pitch that Myanmar is “the last frontier of Southeast Asia” in a keynote speech at the Asean Business and Investment Summit, on the sidelines of the main Asean Summit, which will be held from Monday to Thursday in Singapore.
Suu Kyi acknowledged that Myanmar very behind in this respect, saying “this may sound old hat to you, but it’s very very new to us. We want you to know we are catching up with the rest of the world.”
There is certainly a long way for Myanmar to go.
Just weeks ago, in late October, the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report, an index that evaluates “the regulations that enhance business activity and those that constrain it” placed Myanmar 171st out of 190 countries.
Myanmar’s rank on this list placed it behind nearly every other country in Asia, and dead last when it comes to its Asean neighbors.
While the World Bank report did commend Myanmar for a few steps taken to improve its business ecosystem—a reduction of the registration fee, as well as improved the monitoring of data on the country’s frequent power outages—the report does not exactly inspire confidence in Myanmar’s readiness for investment.
And, then there is the obvious issue of the optics of doing business in a country where accusations of ethnic cleansing hang in the air.
On Monday, the latest blow against Suu Kyi’s international reputation came as Amnesty International announced they would be stripping her of the organization’s highest honor, the Ambassador of Conscience Award. This the most recent in a string of awards the country’s de facto leader has lost.
As Myanmar slips further into international pariah territory, Suu Kyi’s pitch for investment likely isn’t aimed at American or European firms, but rather from within Asia itself, and indeed investments from Asean members make up as much as 45 percent of the country’s total investments. That figure is in large part related to the body’s longstanding policy of non-interference in one another’s domestic issues.
But, there’s some indication Myanmar’s standing within Asean isn’t ironclad and at least one Asean head of state has refused to remain silent about Myanmar’s domestic politics. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has long been an outspoken critic of Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya population, even going so far as to say that the country deserves to be expelled from Asean back in 2015.
More recently, Mahathir announced in early October that Malaysia will no longer lend its support to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi over her handling of the Rohingya crisis.