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Thailand-Myanmar: Mutual prosperity depends on more than just profits

Publication Date : 20-09-2012


Thailand and Myanmar's leaders must understand that rectifying social problems is as important as investment and balance sheets.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is leading a group of Cabinet members on a visit to Myanmar this week. Economic cooperation is high on the agenda, but will Thailand's business interests in Myanmar be for the benefit of the Myanmar people?

Yingluck's official visit runs from September 19 to 21. The entourage consists of Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul, Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, Industry Minister MR Pongsawat Sawasdivat and Deputy Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt. The high-level delegation shows that Thailand means business.

The trip is meant to foster economic ties, especially regarding development of the Dawei deep-sea port and the Dawei industrial zone in Myanmar. The Dawei development projects are intended to eventually link with economic zones in Thailand.

Nonetheless, this economic cooperation should ensure the support of Myanmar's people. This can only be achieved by fully communicating with local people in the areas of interest. Every effort must be made to ensure that economic benefits will be spread out.

These people should be entitled to take part in discussions early on, to ensure that their concerns, such as on environmental effects, are addressed. New investment should create opportunities for local people and should not adversely affect their way of life.

The coming of foreign investment and improved infrastructure should be designed to help Myanmar raise its people from poverty after decades of political deadlock that kept the country in the economic wilderness. It should not lead to a greater widening of the gap between the affluent and the poor.

The Thai government's plan to build closer economic ties with Myanmar is an obvious strategy, due to Thailand's geographical location and the long history between the two nations. In spite of sporadic border conflicts, millions of people cross the border every day to do business.

Thailand should maximise its strategic significance to create wealth in a sustainable manner. Easier access and logistical improvement should provide the opportunity for people on both sides of the border to utilise available resources sustainably in order to improve their standard of living.

Investments in infrastructure and communications systems will help both Thailand and Myanmar realise their economic potential in the long run. It will also help promote regional trade and investment, not only within Asean but also with China and India. Improved transport and logistics systems will enable Asean to become better connected and serve as an important gateway for distribution of goods and raw materials to the world. But local people's concerns must be addressed to prevent feelings of mistrust or the feeling that foreigners are trying to exploit resources.

Other issues such as the treatment of minority groups along the border, and the condition of migrant workers from Myanmar in Thailand, should also be brought into the discussions. If economic prosperity in Myanmar is managed well, it could encourage migrant workers to return and enjoy new opportunities at home.

Following Myanmar's remarkable progress over the past year, the Thai government should look for opportunities to help its neighbour achieve lasting political and democratic reform, and to smooth the process of further integration into the Asean community.

The diplomatic relationship should have positive implications in all areas of concern, not only economic cooperation. Long-term, sustainable peace and prosperity depend also on social factors and the elimination of distrust, as well as economic ones. This is an opportunity the Thai government should not miss.


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