By Hanna Hindstrom
Aung San Suu Kyi today sketched out a blueprint for future foreign investment in Burma that would prioritise innovation and an understanding of the sensitivities of the business environment there, in an address to the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The opposition icon, who has for long lobbied overseas governments to enforce blockades on companies operating in Burma, urged the forum of leaders to support Burma’s transition to a model Southeast Asian economy. She acknowledged that the content of her address this year contrasted sharply with that of the last WEF.
“Last year I spoke of the challenges that Burma was facing, our missed opportunities, our fundamental need for political stability, national reconciliation and rule of law, that we may be able to achieve genuine democratisation, human development and economic growth,” she said. “A year on I can say that we have taken some steps towards meeting those challenges.”
She praised Minister for Industry 2 U Soe Thane’s decision to attend this year’s meeting of business and world leaders as a sign of positive change taking place in Burma. Her speech also marks a significant shift in policy for Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy, which has previously denounced foreign investment in Burma.
“We wish to create a political, social and economic environment that will bring ethical, new and innovative investments to our country. We would like to draw up our blueprint for a sustainable new model economy with a view to the future needs of our globe, social and environmental concerns, woven into food, water and energy needs.”
Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) applauded Burma’s reforms, suggesting the country could become the “next economic frontier in Asia”. Despite being a resource rich country, Burma remains the least developed in Southeast Asia after decades of diplomatic isolation and economic mismanagement.
Suu Kyi reiterated the need for Burma to hold free and fair elections and initiate political and legal reform, as well as new fiscal and monetary measures. But she expressed optimism that soon Burma would be able to play a more significant role in the global economy.
“I hope the fruit of our labours will contribute towards to a closer, positive links between our domestic economy and global developments,” she said.
She was unable to attend the Davos meeting in person. It remains unclear whether the government would allow her back in the country should she decide to travel – a concern that has prevented her from leaving Burma since 1988. Moreover, the NLD is busy preparing for 1 April by-elections, in which the party is contesting 48 parliamentary seats.
The NLD has endorsed a recent decision by the EU to begin easing sanctions on Burma – a move that has divided opinion. Critics argue that such a poorly targeted policy is ineffective, even that it hurts Burmese people and hinders much-needed international aid from reaching the country. But with the government dominated by former or serving military men and attacks on ethnic minorities ongoing, proponents of sanctions say they should remain, but be finely-tuned to better target hawkish government officials and business cronies.