June 01, 2012
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has delivered a speech in Bangkok saying that investment is welcome in her country, as long as it does not lead to corruption.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok, in her first trip abroad for 24 years, Ms Suu Kyi called for commitment from all in Burma's reform process, including the military.
Ms Suu Kyi received a standing ovation from delegates to the forum when she entered the packed conference hall.
The Nobel laureate warned China and the United States against turning Burma into a "battling ground" as they vie for influence over the strategically important nation.
"A lot of people are talking now about what the position of Burma will be now that we are starting to engage ... more with the United States and how it will affect our relations with China," she said.
"I'm always very concerned when Burma is seen as a battling ground for the United States and China.
"It should not be so, it should be an area of harmony for those two big countries."
The resource-rich, but poor country has a history of engagement with Beijing, but Washington has recently sought closer ties with the quasi-civilian government, easing some sanctions to reward the end of military rule.
Critics accuse China of extracting natural resources at the expense of Burma's impoverished people, and helping to shield the country's former junta from the full weight of international opprobrium at the United Nations Security Council.
Ms Suu Kyi said Burma and China had been "good neighbours" for many years.
Also in the speech, Ms Suu Kyi appealed to investors to think not just of the money they would make, but of how they could best help the Burmese people.
She underlined the need to eradicate corruption and inequality.
"We do not want more investment to mean more possibilities for corruption. We do not want investment to mean greater inequality. We want investment to mean, quite simply, jobs. As many jobs as possible," she said.
She said ordinary Burmese need access to basic secondary education to participate in and gain from reform.
Ms Suu Kyi also said laughingly that the bright lights of Bangkok struck her as she was flying in after 24 years in Burma, because her own country is in dire need of an an energy policy.
The US has sought to build links with Burmese president Thein Sein's government, easing some investment sanctions and naming its first ambassador to the country in 22 years, to reward steps towards democracy including by-elections in April.
Washington has vowed to keep broad sanctions against Burma as an "insurance policy" against "backsliding" on democratic reforms even as it seeks to open up certain types of investment.
Burma occupies a key strategic position between neighbours China and India and its gas, oil, water, wood and precious stones are widely coveted by foreign investors.
Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh visited the country this week, signing trade deals and meeting Ms Suu Kyi, as part of efforts to boost links and contest the influence of regional rival China.
Later this month Ms Suu Kyi will go the UK and Norway to collect her Nobel Peace Prize.
Burma woos Australian Trade.
There are predictions of a Burma boom as sanctions ease and international companies are able to invest in the previously shuttered economy. Already economic development agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are resuming operations in Burma and the government is expecting a surge in foreign investment.
But while the country is resource rich and full of potential, it will take time for Burma's 60 million strong population to see the economic benefits of the new interest.
Southeast Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel reports.
ZOE DANIEL: All of a sudden - Burma is on the move.
Rapid political reform is bringing with it economic change and this nation run ragged by repression is finally full of possibilities. Industries previously flattened by trade restrictions are preparing for an economic revival.
Among them - the garment sector, which before sanctions employed more than 300,000 people - although exports to the US are still not allowed, for the moment.
Khine Khine Nwe is from the country's Garment Manufacturers Association.
KHINE KINE NEW: We have about 150 factories running at this moment with 100,000 workers at one time down to 60,000 workers from 350,000 workers and we are trying to create a job opportunity for them, the government also and our industry also, to bring them back.
ZOE DANIEL: Already Australia and the United States have eased sanctions and the EU has suspended all but the arms embargo for a year.
There are visible changes on the streets of Rangoon, new cars on the road, new goods in the shops - and a sense of surprise among the Burmese people - rich and poor.
MOE MYINT: What has happened over the year, has been a, shall I say, a surprise. I never expected that something like this would happen in my lifetime, I'm 60 years old now.
ZOE DANIEL: U Moe Myint is one of Burma's top businessmen. His oil and gas exploration company operates one of the most productive oil fields in a country perfectly positioned to provide energy to both China and India.
He's known for the fact that he's avoided the crony system that pervades business in Burma where military mates foster business success. But he was still affected by US travel bans on those seen to be profiting from the spoils of the regime.
MOE MYINT: I find that it was totally unfair but what I was very annoyed with when they imposed it on my family, including my young son who has nothing to do with it, at that time my son was working for Chevron in Bakersfield, and then he left the States for Canada and he couldn't get back in on account of the visa imposed on him and that shocked us.
ZOE DANIEL: Now those bans have been lifted and there's finally a chance to truly explore the potential of the place and its people, but with care.
MOE MYINT: I would like to see more investment, more big qualified companies, like for instance from Australia, you have Woodside Petroleum, you have BHP, I would very much like to see companies like that come in. Because when these companies come in, you know, it will have a very positive effect or impact on the environmental, education, health standards of the country and that will help grow a middle class.
But what has happened over the past 20 years, the country has gone poorer.
ZOE DANIEL: Already there's an emphasis on corporate social responsibility, amid concern that people will be forgotten by international investors who are only looking to extract profits.
Development consultant Daniel Gelfer.
DANIEL GELFER: This is a labour-intensive country, there's lots of labour available, people need jobs, people are unemployed, people are impoverished, people are underemployed. There's a need for massive employment both in skilled and unskilled labour, and I would hope that investment could help fill some of those gaps.
ZOE DANIEL: Known as an untapped, resource-rich place, there are predictions that Burma could be a new Asian tiger - if reforms continue.
This is Zoe Daniel in Rangoon for PM.
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