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Myanmar’s Emerging Role in the Regional Economy

Meredith Miller

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This essay assesses how Myanmar’s economic trajectory will shape its future international standing and regional relationships.

Main Argument

Although Myanmar stands to benefit tremendously from its geographic location and natural endowments, the country faces significant challenges in navigating the current period of intense political and economic change. High domestic expectations and amplified international attention have placed increased pressure on the government to make effective economic reforms. This economic evolution will take decades to unfold, but if successful, Myanmar’s economic re-emergence will enlarge Naypyidaw’s role on the world stage and strengthen the region as a whole.

Policy Implications

  • Myanmar’s opening and ambitious reform agenda were sparked by the desire to diversify and expand the country’s economic relationships, and economic progress is essential to legitimize the political reforms. This means that an immediate focus on areas where tangible livelihood improvements can be realized is critical for strengthening the political reform agenda.
  • Economic and geopolitical trends in Asia have converged to heighten Myanmar’s attractiveness as an economic partner. Sustained momentum on political and economic reforms would allow Myanmar to develop into an important hub for deepening the region’s economic integration and would also boost the credibility of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
  • One immediate result of Myanmar’s opening has been the increased voice of civil society in economic policy, particularly with respect to large-scale infrastructure projects such as the suspended Myitsone dam. This adds an important new dynamic to the country’s relationships with foreign investors, particularly China, and could be a catalyst for a more balanced economic relationship.