Developing countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America are grappling with how to deal with China's rising economic influence—particularly the multibillion-dollar development projects financed through China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Myanmar, however, appears to be approaching foreign investment proposals with considerable caution. This report examines the framework the country is developing to promote transparency and accountability and to reserve for itself the authority to weigh the economic, social, and environmental impacts of major projects proposed by international investors, including China.

Construction workers ride to the site of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone, approximately fifteen miles south of Yangon, on May 8, 2015. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)
Construction workers ride to the site of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone, approximately fifteen miles south of Yangon, on May 8, 2015. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Summary

  • In 2018, Myanmar’s government launched a new policy framework for guiding the country’s long-term development plans. If fully implemented, the policy would apply international standards and norms to its regulation of large-scale development projects undertaken by commercial and state-owned enterprises and joint ventures.
  • The policy, however, is likely to remain largely aspirational unless the government can overcome major political and institutional impediments, including military control of certain political and economic sectors, corruption, and armed conflict in the country’s resource-rich periphery.
  • Responding to Myanmar’s desire to modernize its infrastructure, Myanmar and China have agreed in principle to develop a China-Myanmar Economic Corridor with extensive Chinese investment. The net effect is likely to bind the two economies ever more closely together.
  • To compensate for the lack of government capacity to implement the new policy, Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, would be well advised to harness the talents of the country’s civil society organizations, many of which are already active in conflict areas and could help local communities ensure that their interests will be served by the new investments.

About the Report

Based on government documents, media reports, interviews, and a review of Myanmar’s past experience with foreign investment, this report evaluates the potential for peace or conflict in Myanmar resulting from the major infrastructure development being sought by the Myanmar government, particularly from China.

About the Author

Priscilla Clapp is a retired minister-counselor in the U.S. Foreign Service and an affiliate of USIP’s Burma program. She has served in many capacities in the U.S. Department of State, including as chief of mission in Myanmar (1999–2002) and deputy assistant secretary for refugee programs (1989–93). She also served in posts at the U.S. embassies in South Africa, the Soviet Union, and Japan, and worked on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff.

Related Publications

Myanmar Coup Weakens Southeast Asia Security and Cooperation

Myanmar Coup Weakens Southeast Asia Security and Cooperation

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

By: Brian Harding; Jason Tower

Southeast Asian governments have reacted to the coup in Myanmar in diverse ways that reflect divergent interests. Some, such as Singapore, have condemned the generals’ violence against anti-coup protesters. Others, including Vietnam, have strategic concerns behind their limited willingness to speak out. Cambodia may believe it benefits from the takeover as international attention shifts to Myanmar. They can all agree, though, that fallout from the coup is damaging the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a time when the broader regional order is in flux.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Policy

China’s High-Stakes Calculations in Myanmar

China’s High-Stakes Calculations in Myanmar

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

By: Jason Tower

The ultimate outcome of Myanmar’s nine-week-old coup will affect a range of international actors — but none more than China. As Asia’s greatest power, China has strategic and economic stakes in its neighbor to the south that leave little space for genuine neutrality behind a façade of non-interference. Since February 1, Beijing has profoundly shaped the trajectory of post-coup violence and blocked international efforts to restore stability.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Policy

Myanmar in the Streets: A Nonviolent Movement Shows Staying Power

Myanmar in the Streets: A Nonviolent Movement Shows Staying Power

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

By: Zarchi Oo; Billy Ford; Jonathan Pinckney

The people of Myanmar have opposed military rule in the past but never like this: In the face of horrific brutality by a lawless regime, Burmese have risen up in an historic national movement of nonviolent resistance. Led by young women, the fractious country has united across ethnic, generational and class lines, weaponizing social norms and social media in a refusal to accept the generals’ February 1 seizure of power.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Nonviolent Action

View All Publications