After securing agreements from the Thai government to cooperate in the development of the Dawei deep-sea port, Burmese President Thein Sein on Monday met with top Thai business executives.
Burma is unable to supply enough electricity to meet the country’s needs, through a combination of lack of gas to run existing generators and a lack of power plants.
Thein Sein met with executives from PTT, Siam Cement Group and Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF) and other companies to discuss business ties and cooperation.
Pailin Chuchottaworn, the CEO of PTT, Thailand’s state-owned energy company, said it had won many contracts from Burma over the past 20 years, and it “will allocate [a] gas supply to solve Myanmar's electricity problem in the short term.”
“We regard Myanmar as our second half after 20 years of expansion there. Myanmar has always honoured the contracts, even if it has a power shortage problem.”
PTT Exploration and Production president and chief executive Tevin Vongvanich said the gas would total 40 million cubic feet per day from the Yadana well, but it would not affect PTT’s gas supply because the company would secure more gas concessions.
According to reports in local media, Adirek Sripratak, president and CEO of Charoen Pokphand Foods, said the company planned to invest $550 million in Burma over the next three years. The investments would cover rice mills, seed, animal feed, cattle farms, and aquatic animals.
Siam Cement Group, the giant construction material manufacturer, said it would soon set up a $314 million cement production plant in Burma to support faster infrastructure development.
Santi Villasakdanont, managing director to Saha Pathana Inter Holding Plc, said the firm planned to spend about $62 million to set up an industrial estate in Rangoon or a nearby province.
However, the centerpiece of Thein Sein’s trip remained the agreement with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to cooperate in pushing ahead on the Dawei deep-sea port project, which includes securing long-term financing for the project.
Ital-Thai, the parent company of the project's main developer, has had trouble coming up with development funds from governments or private organizations. MaxMyanmar, a Burmese conglomerate and a local partner, said in June that it would withdraw its stake.
Work on the project has slowed in recent months, but Thailand last week recommitted itself to provide initial infrastructure financing to get the project moving again with a pledge of up to $3 billion from PTT Pcl of Thailand.
The Dawei project includes plans for a 250-square kilometre industrial area with a steel mill, petrochemical plant and oil refinery, plus a railroad and highway linkage system to Thailand’s seaports and industrial districts, and on to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is estimated to cost up to $60 billion.
The two countries also signed Memorandums of Understanding agreeing to provide assistance in areas including security, infrastructure and logistics. Thailand will also provide guidance prior to 2014 when Burma becomes the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Countries.
Thein Sein and Yingluck also agreed to open three new border crossing points near Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Kanchanaburi, in addition to the three existing official checkpoints.
Thein Sein was granted an audience with HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn at Chitralada Palace before attending a dinner reception on Monday hosted by Yingluck at Government House.
On Sunday, Thein Sein inspected the Laem Chabang deep-sea port on Thailand's Gulf Coast, which will be connected by road to Dawei, cutting out the longer sea route around the Malaysian peninsula.
Sean Turnell of Australia's Macquarie University told Voice of America in an article published on Tuesday that Thailand's economy stands to benefit from the project more than Burma's.
“All the advantages go to Thailand rather than to Burma. Because really this is about getting quick access to Bangkok and some of the manufacturing outlets of Thailand and natural resources and all sort of things into the country. It's on a tiny arm of Burma,” said Turnell. “I mean it really involves little in the way of Burma's industrial capacity, for instance, or access to Burmese markets.”
Meanwhile, the Burmese Rohingya Association of Thailand staged a protest on Monday outside the venue of Thein Sein’s meeting with Yingluck. Widespread sectarian violence in Burma’s western Arakan State has claimed 78 lives and caused many international organizations to criticize Burma’s handling of the ethnic Rohingya issue. Thein Sein last week asked the UN refugee commissioner to take over responsibility for the Rohingyas, who are denied citizenship in Burma.
Benjamin Zawacki of Amnesty International told VOA that the overall human rights situation in Burma has gotten worse in the past year, despite the landmark political reforms.
“President Thein Sein simply asserts that Rohingyas are not citizens and then, regardless of their actual status, he's currently allowing security forces under the rubric of the state of emergency to commit violations against that ethnic minority,” he said.
Thein Sein will meet leaders of the Burmese community in Thailand during a visit to his country's embassy on Tuesday, prior to returning home.