Are Myanmar sanctions about to go?
The first signs of political reforms in resource-rich Myanmar have been followed by visits in quick succession from US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary William Hague. During his Jan 5-6 visit, Hague said a meeting of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council in April will consider the bloc’s response to the reforms in Myanmar, although he twinned it with a call to free political prisoners among other steps.
April 1 is when parliamentary by-elections are to be held in Myanmar, with the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi contesting.
Hague became the first British Foreign Secretary to visit the country since 1955 – unlike his Indian counterparts who have been basking in the glory of warming ties. Through its engagement with Yangon, New Delhi could even take some credit for what it must hope is an irreversible process of political reforms in Myanmar. The process of engaging with the military junta is something that has also been embraced by the former Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate and former political prisoner.
The military regime has already released 370 political prisoners and back in London, Hague has just written an article about his visit, where he promises “a new relationship with Burma” if the country continues reforms. You can find the text of his article here
The fact remains that both China and India have stolen a march over the European Union with their engagements – very different in nature – with Yangon. The EU has hardly lived up to its promise “to respond positively to genuine progress,” says Derek Tonkin, former British ambassador to Thailand and now chairman of Network Myanmar, in an analysis of Hague’s visit.
You can find a pdf link to Tonkin’s analysis, titled Moving the Goalposts, here
There are clear benefits of engaging with Yangon. An analysis of the eight firms who last week were awarded 10 onshore oil and gas blocks in Myanmar’s biggest energy tender in years shows that nearly all of them went to friendly Asian countries.
These, according to a Reuters report published in the Myanmar Times, are the companies:
1. Malaysia’s Petronas (won right to explore two blocks);
2. Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production (also two blocks);
3. PT ITSTECH Resources Asia (Indonesia, one block)
4. Tianjin New Highland (China, one block)
5. Hong Kong-listed EPI Holding (one block)
6. Jubilant Energy (India), which bagged a production sharing block
7. Switzerland-based Geopetrol International Holdings Inc (one block) and
8. Russian-linked CIS Nobel Oil Company (one block).
You can find the Reuters story here. It says Myanmar is now offering nine offshore blocks, five of which are deepwater, and quotes a source as saying: “The Ministry of Energy has asked for proposals. Some oil and gas companies have come for the data presentations. There has been a lot more interest in the deepwater blocks coming from the Japanese.”