Myanmar trade officials reassured Chinese investors on Saturday during the China-ASEAN Expo that Chinese investment is welcomed by the country and Chinese entrepreneurs can be worry-free when it comes to their investments.
This was seen as a gesture to repair the relationship upset by Myanmar's abrupt decision last month to halt the construction of the China-invested Myitsone Dam. It is a legitimate concern of the Chinese government as it has requested the Myanmar government to ensure the safety of Chinese investments. As the second largest foreign investor of Myanmar, China has $6.4 billion worth of investments in the country.
Among the Chinese public, the risk of Chinese businesses in the booming ASEAN area was highlighted by the recent killing of 13 Chinese sailors in the Mekong River. A stable policy environment is a prerequisite for prosperity. It is especially important to Myanmar as it is embarking on political reform. Short-term political gain should not be taken at the sacrifice of business.
The $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam has completed its thorough environmental impact assessment in order for construction to begin. However, it was suddenly called off for responding to "local public will." Earlier this year, Myanmar senior officials asked for a speedy construction of the project during an inspection. The whimsical change will inevitably send troubling signals to potential investors.
Soon after the issue, Myanmar President Thein Sein paid a visit to India, which sparked a round of speculation the trip indicated the start of a grand game between China and India in Myanmar.
Myanmar no doubt holds strategic importance for China. When Myanmar started the process of opening itself to the world, China gave its support. There is no reason to infer that China takes a zero-sum approach regarding Myanmar developing relationships with other countries. The supposition itself will create tension in the region.
Mutual benefit has for a long time been the central theme of China's outbound investment and it does not seek the development's exclusiveness. Myanmar's stability is crucial to the prosperity of the entire ASEAN region. A long period of sanctions from the West has resulted in poverty and a closing up of the country.
However, competition and tension are often played up by Western media. Halting the construction of the Myitsone Dam for instance was interpreted as the clearest signal of Myanmar's willingness to embrace the West.
This is an underestimation of China's role in facilitating Myanmar's change and misreading of the situation.