The Burma<->Wonga ($) Nexus

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 9/29/2007 03:00:00 PM
I have a nasty neighbor like the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) does. Whereas I have to put up with a neighbor playing loud gangsta rap that goes "smack that biatch" and "kill those mofos", ASEAN's neighbor Burma actually does those things all the time. Why does Burma do so? Because it can. It's about the wonga (slang for money), naturally. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues aside, there's a heckuva lot of energy reserves not being tapped by America because of its sanctions just waiting for those who can stand dealing with the Burmese junta. As long as it can get a cut on such deals to sustain itself in power, the junta has a way to survive Yes, ASEAN has already made a pretty strong statement about the situation there for an outfit that has emphasized "constructive engagement" with Burma:
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers had a full and frank discussion on the situation in Myanmar at their Informal Meeting this morning in the UN and agreed for the Chair to issue this Statement. They were appalled to receive reports of automatic weapons being used and demanded that the Myanmar government immediately desist from the use of violence against demonstrators. They expressed their revulsion to Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win over reports that the demonstrations in Myanmar are being suppressed by violent force and that there has been a number of fatalities. They strongly urged Myanmar to exercise utmost restraint and seek a political solution. They called upon Myanmar to resume its efforts at national reconciliation with all parties concerned, and work towards a peaceful transition to democracy. The Ministers called for the release of all political detainees including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
In addition, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called on Burma to better its human rights record. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has urged Burma to "
redeem democracy." Singaporean PM Lee Hsien Loong says the situation is "very grave". Even Thai PM Surayud Chulanot who himself was installed by a military junta has "condemned the use of violence." However, it turns out that Thailand is the main customer of the biggest gas project in Burma run by the French energy giant TOTAL:

Total of France, which operates a natural gas project in Burma, has expressed its “deep concern” over the situation in the country but rejected the idea it should pull out.

The company argues that its presence benefits tens of thousands of people and serves as a model for “business and political leaders looking for ways to address the country’s human rights issues”.

Alongside Chevron of the US, Total is one of the leading western companies still active in Burma.

In a statement, it said: “A forced withdrawal would only lead to our replacement by other operators probably less committed to the ethical principles guiding all our initiatives. Our departure could cause the population even greater hardship and is thus an unacceptable risk.”

Total and Chevron are partners on the Yadana offshore gas project, which came on stream in 1998. Last year the field produced an average of 19.3m cubic metres a day, representing about half of Burma’s total gas output.

Most of the gas is sold to Thailand; PTT, the Petroleum Authority of Thailand, is a member of the Yadana consortium. Chevron, which acquired its stake when it bought Unocal in 2005, said it was monitoring the situation.

Production has been steady since 2001. Total said it would not invest in any new projects in Burma, but would continue to spend on maintenance and in areas necessary to sustain production, such as drilling new wells and installing compressors.

In 2003 Bernard Kouchner, now French foreign minister, was commissioned as an independent consultant by Total to write a report on the group’s involvement in Burma. He did not call for it to leave the country, but said the company “must come out clearly in favour of democracy”.

Human Rights Watch, the New York-based campaign group, takes a similar view, saying it has a responsibility to speak out on events in Burma.

Arvind Ganesan of HRW said: “The Yadana project is probably one of the biggest revenue raisers, if not the biggest revenue raiser, for the Burmese government, so it gives them the ability to do the things they want to do.”

He added that there was a similar responsibility on Thailand, which buys most of the Yadana gas, and other Asian countries that have been investing in Burma.

Western companies such as Premier Oil of the UK have pulled out.

But ONGC of India and CNPC of China, both state-controlled, have been building up their investments.

Burma’s gas resources are sizeable, if not enormous. Proved reserves were 540bn cubic metres at the end of last year, according to the BP Review of World Energy.

Aside from Thailand, that's quite a list of other states with interests in Burma's energy reserves. I've already mentioned Chinese involvement in Burma. Just as you don't expect the Thai military junta to be too rough on another military junta, you don't expect Chinese authoritarians wary of populist movements led by religious figures to compel Burmese authoritarians to negotiate with, er, populist movements led by religious figures. Shooting at monks is truly appalling stuff, but Burma uses its business ties well to curry favor with certain others in the international community. That is, enough favor to live out whatever sanctions the US would place on it. At the end of the day, it's all about the wonga.