Date
26 March 2017
Japaneses Finance Minister Taro Aso (left) and Myanmar Vice President Nyan Tun visit a factory after the opening ceremony of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone. Photo: Reuters
Japaneses Finance Minister Taro Aso (left) and Myanmar Vice President Nyan Tun visit a factory after the opening ceremony of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone. Photo: Reuters

Myanmar launches Japanese-backed economic zone

Myanmar has opened a Japanese-backed investment zone, with more than 40 companies, giving a boost to President Thein Sein ahead of elections in November.

The Thilawa special economic zone, a joint project of the Japanese and Myanmar governments 20 kilometers south of Yangon, has been a milestone since decades of military rule ended in 2011 and international sanctions were lifted.

The zone, the country’s first, is expected to speed up Myanmar’s economic development to a major regional manufacturing center.

However, Thilawa’s success is unlikely to be replicated elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing analysts.

Another economic zone at Dawei, close to the Thai border but 600 kilometers further south, has ambled along in fits and starts for the past eight years with little actual development.

Japan has pledged support and a new concession agreement at Dawei has been signed with a consortium of private developers but no specific timeline has been set for progress and investors remain doubtful it will take off.

Another economic zone in the western Rakhine state, close to where China has twin oil and gas pipelines running across Myanmar to its southern Yunnan province, is also stalled after multiple delays in announcing the company responsible for developing the promising but impoverished area, which lies in the Bay of Bengal.

The opening ceremonies Wednesday for Thilawa came amid Myanmar’s most important election campaign ever.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, a grouping composed largely of former military officers, faces Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy.

Getting Thilawa into operation enables President Thein Sein to demonstrate to an electorate hungry for jobs that some of the development promised for Myanmar is going forward.

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