The Irrawaddy

Thailand Seeks Norway’s Help to Develop Rakhine State

Local residents' houses are seen in front of the buildings of the Chinese oil pipeline project (pink roof) on Madae island, Kyaukpyu township, Rakhine state, Myanmar October 7, 2015. China is taking steps to protect its most strategic investments in Myanmar - twin oil and gas pipelines and a deep sea port - ahead of an unpredictable election in the Southeast Asian nation next month. The fishing town of Kyaukpyu, racked by violence three years ago between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas, is at the heart of China's drive for new resources and trade routes. In particular, new oil and gas pipelines from Kyaukpyu connect China's southwestern province of Yunnan directly with the Indian Ocean, bypassing the narrow Malacca Strait, where a strong U.S. naval presence has long worried Chinese policymakers. Picture taken October 7. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun - GF10000245721

YANGON – Thailand’s foreign minister sought Norway’s collaboration for a development project in Myanmar’s strife-torn Rakhine State during the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Singapore. Thailand’s leading research institute is already involved in ongoing efforts to recruit investors.

Thailand expects Norway to join the project, which includes a public health plan, an infrastructure project, community-based development and a vocational education plan, Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai told media after a sideline meeting with Norway’s foreign minister, Ine Marie Eriksen Sreide, according to a press statement on the ASEAN website.

The project will support economic growth and benefit local residents as well as the government, Don said.

Rakhine State is one of the poorest states in Myanmar, yet it is rich in natural resources and holds potential for successful investments in agriculture, fisheries and the energy sector. Many foreign companies have already invested in petroleum and off-shore natural gas production plants there.

In Rakhine State, the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone is set to become an important port for the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy project, which aims to build and improve trade and investment routes connecting China with 70 other countries.

The Myanmar government and the Thai-based Institute of Business Economics Research and Development (IBERD) have been discussing a pilot plan to attract investors to the region and held a series of meeting in Naypyitaw last month. IBERD has offered to act as a consultant on development plans and economic opportunities between the government and interested developers.

Myanmar Social Welfare Minister U Win Myat Aye, who is also chairman of the Committee for Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State, told The Irrawaddy that Myanmar does not plan to rule out foreign support for Rakhine State. But he declined to confirm that Norway has been invited to the project.

“We decided to collaborate with all the alliance countries for Rakhine State, but we have an individual policy for each foreign country. We will accept each country in accordance with that country’s policy,” said U Win Myat Aye.

Norway has not expressed any opinion to media regarding Thailand’s invitation to collaborate on Rakhine State.

Norway was one of the first members of the international community to contribute support to the ongoing peace process by financing development and humanitarian projects in ceasefire areas. Norwegian companies have expressed interest in Myanmar’s renewable energy sector.

Recently, Norway has been putting more pressure on the Myanmar government to create the necessary conditions for the Rohingyas’ return to Rakhine State, from where nearly 700,000 of them have been driven out since military clearance operations took place in late 2017.

“The economic development plan aims to support the whole state, not only those affected by the conflict in Rakhine State. Whoever wants to invest in that area needs to focus on job opportunities for the local people,” U Win Myat Aye said.

According to U Win Myat Aye, the Rakhine Socio-Economic Development Implementation Committee has been working with an economics team from Thailand. Thailand also recently sent a team to Rakhine State to research investment opportunities. Thailand is interested in investments in fisheries and communication businesses.

U Win Myat Aye said Thailand has already proposed some projects, but those projects wre still being analyzed.

China and Japan have also offered to collaborate on economic development in Rakhine State, he said.