US eases sanctions on Myanmar in rare difference with Aung San Suu Kyi
Last month, Aung San Suu Kyi advised foreign companies not to invest in the state-run Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise until it became more accountable and open.
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Aung Kyaw Htoo, assistant director at the energy planning department at the Myanmar energy ministry, told an audience at a June investment conference in Myanmar's biggest city Yangon that there will be “opportunities for co-operation in the Myanmar energy sector,” adding that “there are quite a number of places not so explored or unexplored.”Skip to next paragraph
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More specifically, he said that the international bidding process for 25 offshore oil and gas blocks will take place “in two or three months time,” that is, in August or September.
Those announcements came the same week as Myanmar President Thein Sein announced that the coming year would see a "second wave" of reforms in the country, mostly economic.
While Chevron has a presence in Myanmar dating to the pre-sanctions era, other US energy companies were not permitted to invest as sanctions took hold in the 1990s and later.
American companies have pressed the US government to end restrictions on investment, saying that European businesses could edge out Americans.
However, expatriate Burmese lobbies, human rights groups, and several prominent US lawmakers – including a bipartisan group fronted by Sen. John McCain – urged the Obama administration to heed Aung San Suu Kyi's laments about MOGE when fine-tuning sanctions-easing decisions.
“As everyone with any knowledge on Myanmar will attest, the changes we have seen to date are far from irreversible. It is ludicrous to reward the current government’s untested reforms by paving the way for a gold rush. Fighting in Myanmar’s ethnic areas continues and many of the ethnic leaders are concerned that these reforms are just a ploy to pave the way for "development’ projects on their lands,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, AIPMC Vice President and Deputy Leader of the Thai Democratic Party former Thai Senator, according to a statement.
IN PICTURES: Myanmar Edges Into the Open
The easing of sanctions also comes as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits nearby Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia – the latter for a regional foreign ministers parlay – amid a growing geopolitical rivalry between the US and China, which is partly being played out in Southeast Asia.
Laos and Cambodia are seen increasingly as Chinese economic satellites, while Vietnam and Myanmar, which have had close political and economic ties with booming China as of late, have both made overtures to the US.