Myanmar has called for US businesses to “join the gold rush” of investors flooding into one of the developing world’s last frontier markets, even as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that the country’s recent progress was at risk due to violent religious and ethnic conflicts.
“The door for business opportunity has been closed for four decades. That door is now wide open,” Myanmar foreign minister U Wunna Maung Lwin told an Asia Society forum in New York on Thursday.
Although Myanmar’s top diplomat spoke extensively about creating the conditions for sustainable development, a gold rush is an apt term for Myanmar’s rapid growth since it emerged from decades of isolation in 2011. Foreign aid and investment have surged into the country—mostly from Southeast Asia and the West, since Chinese investment has declined—as companies like Coca Cola, Ford, and Unilever seek access to Asia’s next big potential market. But Myanmar’s underdeveloped infrastructure, from the chronic lack of electricity in rural areas to a severe shortage of office space in Yangon, has made for slow going.
A few blocks away at the United Nations General Assembly, Ban praised Myanmar’s progress toward “a more open and broad-based democracy.” But he also warned, “Much of this progress could be undermined if the threat of communal disturbances and violent confrontation between religious and ethnic groups is not addressed effectively.”
The Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar has been the victim of a series of violent clashes with the majority Buddhist population this year, resulting in hundreds of deaths in Buddhist-on-Muslim riots and the displacement of tens of thousands of Rohingyas to refugee camps on the Bangladesh border.