The Impacts of Myanmar’s Coup on Business Opportunities in ASEAN
The recent coup in Myanmar has upended assessments and expectations about Myanmar’s economic potential as well as business opportunities in the region.
ALTIOS shares the expected impacts of the coup on key markets in ASEAN such as Vietnam and Singapore.
Myanmar’s economy and engagement with other countries has long been defined by its current rulers – its military junta, whose ruling of the country has drawn condemnation from others in the form of sanctions and withdrawal of foreign direct investments (FDI).
High expectations were placed on Myanmar after the National League of Democracy (NLD), led by Aung Suu Kyi, won the 2015 elections. However, in recent years, a combination of poor infrastructure, the government’s handing of the Rohingya crisis, and bureaucratic red tape have led to a decline in foreign investment.
Recently, the military coup by the junta has shaken up investor perceptions and Myanmar’s projected economic recovery, which was already fragile considering the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sian Fenner, lead Asia economist at Oxford Economics, predicted that the political upheaval would jeopardize the $3.5 billion (€2.9 billion) in foreign investment proposals that were yet to be approved, with “projects likely to be delayed at best, or possible cancelled.”
What does this mean for ASEAN investments in Myanmar?
First of all, certain ASEAN countries like Cambodia and Vietnam could stand to gain new foreign investments. With investors pulling out of Myanmar in droves due to the military coup, Vietnam and Cambodia are attractive options for those looking into alternative Southeast Asian bases.
Field Pickering, the head of venture investing at the Singapore-based Vulpes Investment Management, was one of many with interests in Myanmar who offered insight into the Vietnamese market. According to Pickering, “Once borders open up after the pandemic, and Asian investors return physically to Vietnam, I believe it will be a feeding frenzy and you will see deal activity erupt, pushing Vietnam to the top of the list of emerging markets attracting foreign investment.”
Secondly, the coup poses great risk to the business interests and investments of Singapore, which accounts for 34% of overall approved investment in Myanmar (24 billion USD) and is the largest foreign investor in Myanmar. While the long-term economic effects of the coup are yet to be determined, many Burmese are calling on various Singaporean stakeholders to divest from Myanmar. A few actors have begun this process, such as Lim Kaling, the co-founder of the technology company Razer, but activist groups such as Justice for Myanmar are pushing for more to follow suit. As the clash between the junta and its citizens continues, it remains to be seen how key investors in Myanmar like Singapore choose to prioritise commitments to upholding human rights and democracy, relationships with the current ruling government of Myanmar and its allies, and its vested economic interests in the region.
Finally, the coup threatens the tenuous unity of ASEAN. Long-standing differences in attitudes towards Myanmar and ASEAN’s commitment to non-interference have led to many outsiders condemning ASEAN responses to the coup, with countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Philippines stating that the coup is an internal affair. Additionally, the delicate political situation and differences in opinions prevented ASEAN from producing a joint statement on the situation. Altogether, the lack of consensus on the situation and commitment to a resolution combined with general uncertainty about Myanmar may deter FDIs from coming to Myanmar and ASEAN as a whole.
Overall, businesses should exhibit a high level of caution as they navigate Myanmar’s new normal. Businesses should also be aware that their decisions regarding Myanmar carry an undeniable political message.