Myanmar claims to be changing, and the country now wants everyone to see how ready it is to open up to the world.
Just two years ago, international travelers were still restricted from visiting the new capital Naypyidaw, a symbol of the former authoritarian regime, but this week hundreds of delegates including government and business leaders and even foreign journalists are invited to the World Economic Forum on East Asia, the first major international event hosted by Myanmar since the generals decided to ease their grip on power and embrace democratic reforms.
The June 5-7 conference will bring together top public and private sector players as well as development officials to test if the country is prepared to assume the chairmanship of the ASEAN in 2014 and determine the true scope of the reform process initiated after decades of military rule.
And it seems that everyone seems to be taking Myanmar’s future very seriously, judging from the high profile of the forum’s co-chairpersons, which among others include U.N. Development Program Administrator Helen Clark, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes or PepsiCo chief executive Indra Nooyi.
Ahead of the conference, McKinsey Global Institute published a report claiming that Myanmar may be able to attract up to $100 billion in foreign direct investment by 2030, and development aid is just starting to pour in.
Myanmar was effectively cut off from foreign assistance for almost thirty years after soldiers violently quelled anti-government protests in 1988, and the regime was only able to get aid from regional allies such as China, India or Japan, which remained engaged during those difficult times and is now pushing for an even deeper cooperation relationship.
The potential for development projects is enormous, particularly in agriculture, energy, infrastructure and tourism, and USAID has already announced the opening of a full-fledged office in Yangon. Another major donor that decided to return to the country is the Asian Development Bank, but part of the aid community is still concerned about whether donors are moving too fast without waiting to see how the regime’s proposed reforms play out.
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