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Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

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Showing posts for "Burma/Myanmar"

Myanmar Facing Massive Inflation Before Economy Really Gets Going

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Toe Aung, deputy head of urban planning, poses for a photo at the Yangon City hall, with the lit Sule Pagoda seen behind him, in Yangon, on September 5, 2013. Toe Aung, a former army major, bears one of the biggest responsibilities in reform-era Myanmar: planning Yangon's unstoppable transformation from a regional backwater into Southeast Asia's next megacity. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) Toe Aung, deputy head of urban planning, poses for a photo at the Yangon City hall, with the lit Sule Pagoda seen behind him, in Yangon, on September 5, 2013. Toe Aung, a former army major, bears one of the biggest responsibilities in reform-era Myanmar: planning Yangon's unstoppable transformation from a regional backwater into Southeast Asia's next megacity. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

A short piece by Agence France-Presse (AFP) run in the Straits Times yesterday, buried amidst the big international stories on Syria and the stand-off in the Philippines and others, caught my attention. The short piece, titled “Poor and Homeless in Costly Yangon” discussed how, because of Myanmar’s political and economic opening, and the lack of quality office and apartment and factory space in Yangon, rents for any decent property have soared through the roof. AFP estimates that land prices in Yangon have risen since 2010, the beginning of Myanmar’s opening, to as much as $700 per square foot now, far more than the price per square foot in Bangkok, which is vastly richer and has twenty-four hour electricity water, and all other modern conveniences. Other articles have suggested that some properties in central Yangon are renting for more than $1000 per square foot, more than rentals in Manhattan. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of September 6, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
An employee of a sushi restaurant takes a break as seafood stalls are seen at the Noryangjin fisheries wholesale market in Seoul on September 6, 2013. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters) An employee of a sushi restaurant takes a break as seafood stalls are seen at the Noryangjin fisheries wholesale market in Seoul on September 6, 2013. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters)

Will Piekos and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Beijing goes to war against a former security tsar. Investigations of multiple senior executives at state-owned oil producer PetroChina seem to link back to a corruption case against domestic security tsar and former senior oil executive Zhou Yongkang. Zhou was in charge of the police and domestic security apparatus and was also a member of the Politburo’s standing committee until 2012. Zhou is not officially under investigation himself, though there are rumors that he is under house arrest. Read more »

Myanmar Civil Society Going to Lose Another One?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Myanmareses living in Malaysia display placards in protest against the Myitsone dam project, outside Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur on September 22, 2011. (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters) Myanmareses living in Malaysia display placards in protest against the Myitsone dam project, outside Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur on September 22, 2011. (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters)

Since Myanmar’s reform process began in earnest in 2010, Myanmar civil society activists seem to have won one victory after the next. Indeed, the apparent change in the power of civil society, from before 2010 to today, has been probably the most striking aspect of Myanmar’s transition. Although the political system has opened up, there has not yet been a national general election since 2010; although the military is not as omnipresent as it was before 2010, it remains the central institution in the country, its role as a political actor untouched in many respects; although the business climate undoubtedly has improved, many Western and Japanese investors who have come to Myanmar in the past two years have returned home disappointed that, in reality, graft, poor infrastructure, uncertain regulations, and poor quality labor remain huge impediments to doing business. Read more »

Blink and You Will Miss It: Obama’s Quiet Pivot Progress

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Philippine President Benigno Aquino greets visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a courtesy call at the presidential palace in Manila on August 30, 2013. (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters) Philippine President Benigno Aquino greets visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a courtesy call at the presidential palace in Manila on August 30, 2013. (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters)

Amidst the din of Syrian intervention talk and Fed picks, the Obama administration is pushing forward quietly, but determinedly, to flesh out the pivot to Asia. While most of the critical attention on the pivot or rebalance is paid to what is transpiring on the security front, there is real, albeit slow, progress on the trade front and the potential for significant advances in other areas such as environmental protection. Read more »

Is Myanmar’s Kachin Conflict Really Over?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
UN special Vijay Nambiar takes pictures of burnt houses in Meikhtila on March 24, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) UN special Vijay Nambiar takes pictures of burnt houses in Meikhtila on March 24, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

The visit on Wednesday by the United Nations’ special envoy to Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, to Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization, is a positive sign that the conflict in Kachin state might really be over. [Asia Times has a fine summary of Nambiar’s visit.] The peace deal between the KIO and the Myanmar government, signed in the spring, was obviously a major step forward to ending the decades-long conflict, but it did not provide real closure—it was not a final ceasefire. Read more »

Western Myanmar Conflict About to Heat up Again

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Rohingya men who were shot by the police during a riot on Friday rest in Dapaing district clinic, outside of Sittwe, on August 11, 2013. Attempts to bring stability to Myanmar's strategic northwest Rakhine State could be unravelling after police opened fire on Rohingya Muslims for the third time in two months, reviving tensions in a region beset by religious violence last year. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) Rohingya men who were shot by the police during a riot on Friday rest in Dapaing district clinic, outside of Sittwe, on August 11, 2013. Attempts to bring stability to Myanmar's strategic northwest Rakhine State could be unravelling after police opened fire on Rohingya Muslims for the third time in two months, reviving tensions in a region beset by religious violence last year. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past week, several violent incidents have erupted again in Rakhine (or Arakan) State in western Myanmar, including riots last Friday in which police shot at crowds of Rohingya men and women, killing at least one person, although the death toll remains unclear. This is the at least the third time in the past two months that police have used live fire on crowds of Rohingya in Rakhine State. Read more »

Despite Democracy, Myanmar’s Muslim Minority Still Suffering

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A 969 shirt is seen among National League for Democracy party shirts and Aung San Suu Kyi shirts at a shop on a street side in Yangon on April 27, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) A 969 shirt is seen among National League for Democracy party shirts and Aung San Suu Kyi shirts at a shop on a street side in Yangon on April 27, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

As Myanmar opens up, at least 100,000 Muslims have been made homeless in the past two years by violent attacks, and hundreds if not thousands have been killed, along with a much smaller number of Buddhists. Left unchecked, rising ethnic hatred and increasing attacks could push the country into a terrible period of ethnic cleansing, similar to what happened in the Balkans in the early 1990s. Read more »

Myanmar Government Continues to Blame Muslims for Unrest

by Joshua Kurlantzick
An ethnic Rakhine man holds homemade weapons as he walks in front of houses that were burnt during fighting between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities in Sittwe on June 10, 2012. (Courtesy Reuters) An ethnic Rakhine man holds homemade weapons as he walks in front of houses that were burnt during fighting between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities in Sittwe on June 10, 2012. (Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past six months, the Buddhist-Muslim violence in Myanmar, which last year seemed confined to the western Rakhine (or Arakan) State, has exploded all over the country. The violence has spread to places in central Myanmar, like Okkan and Mktila, to the outskirts of Yangon, and even to towns in the northeast, like Lashio, with little history of inter-religious tension. The nationalist, xenophobic, fascistesque 969 Movement of the monk Ashin Wirathu appears to be gaining followers. The New York Times  recently reported that Wirathu’s sermons now are attracting thousands of followers, and that it is planning to set up school for Buddhist children across the country. Read more »

Myanmar’s Religious and Ethnic Tensions Begin to Spread Across the Region

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A Muslim woman cries in a monastery used to shelter internally displaced people after a riot between Muslims and Buddhists in Lashio township on May 30, 2013. A Muslim woman cries in a monastery used to shelter internally displaced people after a riot between Muslims and Buddhists in Lashio township on May 30, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

For decades, during the rule of the military junta, Myanmar’s numerous internal problems spilled over its borders, sewing chaos along the frontiers with India,Thailand,China, and Bangladesh. Myanmar’s narcotics producers flooded Thailand and other countries with methamphetamines and heroin, Myanmar’s numerous civil wars sent hundreds of thousands of refugees spilling into Thailand and Bangladesh and created a profitable cross-border illegal arms trade in India, and Myanmar’s combination of rape as a weapon of war and massive migration created some of the most virulent strains of HIV/AIDS in Asia, which then spread into China and Thailand. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 31, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Meat products of Shuanghui (Shineway) Group are seen on display on a shelf at a supermarket in Wuhan, Hubei province on May 31, 2013. Meat products of Shuanghui (Shineway) Group are seen on display on a shelf at a supermarket in Wuhan, Hubei province on May 31, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

1. Chinese buy into America’s pork market. Chinese meat giant Shuanghui Group announced that it plans to acquire Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, for $4.7 billion. Both companies would benefit from the deal: Shuanghui would gain a steady and safe supply of pork while Smithfield would gain entry into the expansive Chinese market. If approved—the deal still needs to face the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) process, which assesses national security risks—it would be the largest Chinese acquisition of an American company to date. Read more »