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Finding Energy to Resist International Pressure

Updated On: Jul 07, 2006

If North Korea’s defiance is bad news for the international diplomacy and regional cooperation, news from Myanmar is also not encouraging.

This week, the international newswire Agence France Presse (AFP) has picked up a report by Myanmar’s official newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar which had derided the international call for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release as “meaningless.” AFP quoted the report as saying that, “The restrictions [on Aung San Suu Kyi] will never be lifted until she abandons her practice of the liberal policy. Even if the restrictions on her are lifted in such a situation, the release will bring no changes.”

Just as the Myanmar government declined the request of the ASEAN official representative, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid in March this year to visit Aung San Suu Kyi, the government has also declined a similar request by the Philippines Foreign Minister. The Philippines Foreign Minister Alberto Romulo has announced on 4 July that his trip to Myanmar, originally scheduled to start from 5 July and end on 9 July, has been postponed indefinitely. The trip was part of Romulo’s visit to other ASEAN countries before the Philippines take over the Chairmanship of ASEAN from Malaysia in July. Earlier on 1 July, he had announced that he would try to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi in his trip.

If ASEAN is not having much success in persuading the Myanmar government to liberalise politically, the announcement of tighter sanctions by Switzerland last month is unlikely to have much impact too. The Swiss government has also announced that it will tighten its sanctions against Myanmar, bringing its policy in line with the European Union which had introduced harsher measures in April earlier this year. Measures included the forbidden of Swiss companies taking new stakes in 39 state-controlled enterprises and freezing the assets of 392 members of Myanmar’s leaders. 

Nor are the appeals by the Reporters without Borders and the Burma Media Association to Myanmar Prime Minister General Soe Win to free prominent journalist dissident U Win Tin likely to succeed.

Just what gives the Myanmar government the ability to resist international pressure becomes clearer when one sees the number of mega-deals lining up at Myanmar’s doorsteps.

The Thai energy firm MDX Group agreed to form a US$6 billion joint venture with Myanmar’s Department of Hydroelectric Power to build a 7,110-megawatt hydroelectric plant (known as the Ta Sang plant) on the Salween River. Most of the generated power would be exported to Thailand.

Another Thai entity, the Energy Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) has also signed a joint venture with China’s Sinohydro Corp to build a hydropower dam worth one billion dollars on the Salween River. The feasibility study is likely to be completed early next year. The bulk of the energy is also likely to be exported toThailand.

Earlier on, spotlight has also been on China and India eager to gain favours with Myanmar to obtain access to natural gas obtained from the A-1 block area ofMyanmar near Bangladesh. Even South Korea is trying to obtain Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from the same block.

With all its close neighbours eyeing its energy supplies, it is likely that Myanmar will continue to have the energy to resist international pressure. Change in Myanmar is likely to come on the latter’s own terms and timing. 

Sources:

Switzerland To Tighten Burma Sanctions Over Human Rights Situation (BBC Monitoring, 5 July 2006

Burma- U Win Tin Begins 18th Year in Prison- Thousands of Protest Faxes to be Sent to Burmese Embassies Worldwide (Canada Newswire, 5 July 2006)

Myanmar Says Release of Aung Suu Kyi “Dangerous” (Agence France Presse, 5 July 2006)

Philippines’ Romulo Postpones Trip to Myanmar (Japan Economic Newswire, 4 July 2006)

Philippine Foreign Secretary Postpones Trip to Myanmar (Xinhua General News, 4 July 2006)

Thai Hunger for Cheap Energy Throws Lifeline to Myanmar (Agence France Presse, 2 July 2006)

Romulo Will Try to See Aung San Suu Kyi (Manila Times, 1 July 2006)

EGAT Near to Striking Deal For Plant in Burma (The Nation, 28 June 2006)

Myanmar, Thailand sign $6 billion hydropower agreement (Japan Economic Newswire, 4 April 2006)