World Economic Forum in Myanmar: Isolated No More

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 6/09/2013 02:02:00 PM
In the retail space, there are certain token signs of global integration: McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks. In the realm of economic summitry, there too are certain "franchises" one can have: Think of hosting IMF/World Bank meetings...or, in this case, a World Economic Forum event. What brought Myanmar to mind is the country hosting that most neoliberal of talk shops, the World Economic Forum, from 5-7 June. If you had told me as late as 2010 that this nation would soon be hosting Klaus Schwab's schmooze-a-thon of global movers and shakers, I'd have probably chuckled heartily in dismissing it. Klaus Schwab and Thein Sein sharing the same stage; what an idea!

Well, dismiss it no more since it's actually happened. More remarkable yet, the WEF East Asia event was held in Nay Pyi Daw--the capital created by the generals from virtually scratch starting in 2002. To escape scrutiny of their less-than-proletarian lifestyles, it was thought that Southeast Asian equivalents of McMansions were better shielded out in the boondocks. Again, who would have thought that the hermit-generals would open up to the world once more, or that a marquee WEF event would be held in Nay Pyi Daw of all places.

At any rate, the presence of Tony Fernandes (head of AirAsia--the region's largest budget carrier) and Indra Nooyi (global head of PepsiCo) and other movers and shakers in the worlds of business and politics guaranteed attention. Indeed, that few remarked on how exceptional it was that such an event was held there indicates how far Myanmar has gone towards mainstreaming itself into global affairs. Given how marginalized Myanmar has been in ASEAN in the past few years largely through its own actions, the rapid transformation of the country augurs well for the group moving forward:
John Riady, director of [multinational conglomerate] Lippo Group, said: "I think the opening up of Myanmar over the last 12-18 months is nothing short of amazing. And we should all seize this opportunity as a moment to come together and try to work out our differences and achieve a breakthrough for the integration of the region." Now that Myanmar is facing fewer sanctions and easing controls on its governing style, it'll be able to contribute as a more active member within ASEAN.
The message has been served, then: Myanmar may not remain the "weakest link" in Southeast Asia for long. Besides, with more cooperation and less fear in store for ASEAN, who's complaining?