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Mekong Memo Myanmar Weekly, October 10, 2023: Business, politics, finance, trade & legal news.
We monitor and filter the very best and most insightful stories from Southeast Asia directly to your inbox every week.
By reviewing a wide variety of media including legal, financial and other relevant industries along with government and NGO sources, we are able to sift through the noise and bring you only what we believe to be relevant to an informed observer of Myanmar business news.
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Here is your Mekong Memo Myanmar for the week of October 10, 2023:
Unpacking the Shift to Biometric ID Cards
Myanmar's military leadership is collaborating with China to transition from traditional paper IDs to biometric smart ID cards. This initiative aims to modernize the identification system, enhancing ID durability and streamlining the electoral process. However, concerns arise over China's involvement, given its extensive surveillance history, and the potential for the junta to use these IDs to tighten control over Myanmar's citizens. While some see the benefits of electronic IDs in simplifying bureaucratic processes, others fear it's a strategy to suppress dissent and maintain dominance, especially following the 2021 military coup.
Read more: IndraStra
Rare Earth Market Feels Myanmar-China Economic Tremors
The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index has experienced a significant increase due to supply disruptions, particularly from Myanmar's Kachin State, a major global producer of rare earths. The state's recent suspension of mining activities has caused rare earth prices in China to reach a 20-month high. This suspension, combined with China's economic fluctuations and its increasing reliance on imports, has emphasized the risks of depending on a single country for essential materials. Additionally, geopolitical risks and global economic activity have been identified as influential factors in rare earth price fluctuations, with potential long-term impacts on the market and regional stability.
Read more: Metal Miner
Investment Wave Powers Local Jobs and Green Energy
Myanmar's Investment Commission has greenlit six new projects, promising to generate over 2,600 local jobs. Spanning sectors like power, manufacturing, and tourism, these initiatives include a notable renewable energy venture. Collectively, they're set to infuse Myanmar's economy with US$72.98 million and an additional 314.73 billion kyats. As of August, Singapore, China, and Thailand lead as Myanmar's top investors, with the power sector attracting the highest investment percentage.
Read more: The Star
Thailand's PTTEP Targets Myanmar's Gas Reserves
Thailand's PTTEP is contemplating an extension of its production sharing contracts in Myanmar, with the primary contract set to end in 2028. The move aims to ensure a steady gas supply for both Thailand and Myanmar. PTTEP's Zawtika and Yadana gas fields in Myanmar cater to half of Myanmar's gas needs and 20% of Thailand's. Despite some international companies withdrawing from Myanmar following the 2021 military coup, PTTEP remains committed, also focusing on enhancing production in Thailand and exploring in Malaysia. Thailand currently imports approximately 40% of its energy needs in the form of liquefied natural gas.
Read more: Upstream Online
Export Spectrum: Fish, Grams, and Sweet Gold
In the first six months of fiscal year 2023-24, Myanmar reported varied export figures across multiple sectors. The nation earned $282.45 million from fishery exports, a decrease from the previous year's $322.73 million. Green gram exports reached about 239,191 tons, bringing in over $161 million, though this was a drop from the prior year's 329,749 tons. Additionally, Myanmar exported 1,253 tons of honey, valued at over $1.879 million, primarily to countries like Japan, China, and Saudi Arabia. This export volume was also a decrease from the previous fiscal year's 1,900 tons.
Junta Continues Clampdown on ASSK
The Myanmar Supreme Court has dismissed all six corruption appeal cases against former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. These cases include four linked to the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation and two alleging Suu Kyi received $550,000 from businessman Maung Weik. Previously arrested post the military coup on February 1, 2021, Suu Kyi's total prison sentence has been reduced to 27 years after a partial pardon. Concerns persist over her health in detention, and the exact location of her confinement remains undisclosed.
Border Trade Wanes as Junta Alters Policies
Trade through the Myawaddy border crossing with Thailand has seen a sharp decline of over $363 million in the past five months compared to the previous year, as per the Myanmar junta's Commerce Ministry. The downturn, from about $1,145 million last year to $782 million this year, is attributed to the junta's erratic policy changes, stringent import license procedures, and intensified checks. While corn, rubber, and fishery exports have dwindled, imports crucial for various industries in Myanmar have also suffered, with traders highlighting the challenges posed by the junta's policies.
Read more: The Irrawaddy
Power Crisis Pushes Junta Toward Energy Investments
Facing severe energy shortages and consequent blackouts since 2022, Myanmar's junta energy minister, former major-general Ko Ko Lwin, is actively seeking investments at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization energy forum in Kazakhstan. Following the 2021 coup, major global companies withdrew from Myanmar, leading to a significant investment void. The minister has shown keen interest in foreign collaborations, especially in electricity generation. Recent discussions with Russia have centered on potential cooperation in the oil and gas sectors. The junta is also exploring economic cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union, with Russia and Belarus as key members.
Read more: The Irrawaddy
Western Embassies and NGOs Face Scrutiny Over Labor Rights
Despite their global stance on promoting human rights and democracy, Western countries and international NGOs in Myanmar are facing criticism for not upholding these values in their treatment of local employees. Amid Myanmar's economic hardships, local staff at some Western embassies and NGOs in Yangon have reported salary issues, with their pay not adjusted to match the soaring inflation. The Lutheran World Federation Myanmar notably fired 80 staff after they demanded fair exchange rates for their salaries. These actions raise questions about the genuine commitment of these organizations to the principles they advocate for.
Read more: The Irrawaddy
Myanmar's Internet Freedom Takes a Dive
A recent report by Freedom House highlights a significant decline in internet freedom globally, with Myanmar scoring alarmingly low, just one point above China, the worst-ranked country. Myanmar's authoritarian regime has been notably aggressive, even executing individuals for online expression-related offenses. The study, which assessed 70 countries, emphasized the detrimental role of artificial intelligence advancements in exacerbating online restrictions. As AI's potential for harm grows, countries like Myanmar are at the forefront of this digital repression, with grave consequences for human rights and freedom of expression.
Read more: US News
And now for something completely different.
While the focus of The Memo is on news for business, here’s a fascinating story about a young Myanmar woman who, 40 years ago, had a brush with history:
Four Decades Later: Fearless Encounter with North Korean Foe
In 1983, Yangon was rocked by a failed assassination attempt on South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan by a North Korean hit team. Seventeen Korean officials and four Myanmar nationals tragically lost their lives in the explosion. As the city descended into chaos, Dar San Ye, a barmaid, courageously confronted one of the North Korean agents, Kim Jin-su, who was armed with a live grenade. Despite the danger, Dar San Ye played a pivotal role in capturing the agent. Now 87, she reflects on that fateful day, emphasizing her love for her country and her determination to defend its honor.
Read more: SCMP
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