Myanmar & Energy Geopolitics
Long due political and economic opening of Myanmar has finally triggered a power game in the region where China’s traditional influence on the erstwhile reclusive country is fast being challenged by newer players as Myanmar becomes another playground to assert influence. While energy and resources remains a key issue, political change is resulting in new constituencies of power being created highlighted by changing attitude towards existing influencer – China – while newer players – mainly India and Japan – hoping to court Myanmar, increasingly being seen as a regional power balancer.
The implication on energy and resources is significant. While import of resources (gas, oil and hydro power) remains the main draw for foreign countries, resource revenue – and associated indirect and potentially unethical compensations – will no longer be the main driver for the Myanmar government to act. Domestic development will slowly take greater precedence and foreign players will have to increasingly balance domestic considerations in exploiting local resources for import. As domestic demand grows and resource nationalism sets in importing countries should be careful not to be seen as just a “resource predator”.
China has traditional been the biggest influence on the Burmese regime especially during the rule of the military junta in the 1990’s and 2000’s. This influence led them to secure key energy projects such as the Shwe gas pipeline project, several hydro projects, and projects relating to mineral resource mining. Despite China remaining Myanmar's largest trading partner with commercial, political and military influence (location of key naval outpost in leased Coco islands) recent developments signal a shifting attitude towards China. Halting of the construction of the Myitsone dam on the Irrawady – where the Chinese company CPIC has invested and is the major beneficiary of the electricity – and