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Helping Myanmar: Time for Thailand to be good neighbor

The Nation/ Asia News Network--There is nothing wrong with Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra making appointments to meet Myanmar President Thein Sein every time she has an opportunity on the sidelines of international conferences, but the topics of discussion should go far beyond the Dawei port and special economic zone.

Yingluck met Thein Sein again last week at the ASEAN summit in Brunei to discuss progress on cooperation between the two countries on the Dawei project. This time she updated Thein Sein on the establishment of special purpose vehicles (SPVs) to mobilize financial resources for investment in the mega project. Thailand has drafted a shareholder agreement for the SPVs and invited Japan to join the scheme.

Dawei is one of the biggest infrastructure developments in Myanmar, and Thailand wants it to be a role model for cooperation in the ASEAN community. The project will connect Thailand and other Southeast Asia countries with the Myanmar and the Indian Ocean. In this connection, Thailand will also aim to develop border areas with Myanmar to boost economic activities there.

Both countries have already set up the necessary mechanisms to oversee and run the project. Two more meetings of the Joint High-Level Committee are planned in the near future, as well as more discussions on the details of the SPV agreement.

It must be remembered that this project is still in its early stages and the two governments have more work to do, but the relevant government agencies and officials, in conjunction with the private sector, can perform the necessary tasks. Thailand's prime minister and Myanmar's president have other, more important things to talk about concerning relations between our countries and equitable development in Myanmar.

Myanmar is in the process of reform and national reconciliation, which badly needs international support, notably input from immediate neighbor Thailand. The government in Nay Pyi Taw and Thein Sein have so far showed good intent in pushing reforms, but many obstacles lie ahead, and Thailand is in a good position to lend a hand.

Financial assistance and economic cooperation are among the things Thailand can provide. Thailand's effort so far in this regard can be applauded, but more needs to be done.

A new sense of openness in Myanmar has allowed many of the country's troubles to surface. The problems of the armed ethnic insurgencies and, more recently, communal violence will not be easy to solve in the long term. Muslim Rohingya are still fleeing from Myanmar's Rakhine State to seek better lives in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. Ethnic groups, notably those along the border, are still clashing sporadically with government troops even though a number of ceasefires and “peace agreements” have been reached.

Myanmar's numerous problems all have different root causes, and they require different solutions. Economic development and the Dawei project might help to create jobs, generate growth and reduce poverty to a degree, but these are not cure-alls for the country's troubles.

Next time they meet — perhaps in the very near future — Prime Minister Yingluck should try expanding topics of discussion with Thein Sein to address many other issues and problems. She would do well to ask him what Thailand can do to constructively help solve some of these problems, and offer the necessary assistance. This at least would demonstrate that Thailand is not just an economic entity but a good neighbor that cares for things beyond money.

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