US to Upgrade Burma’s Transportation Infrastructure

By Lin Thant 23 May 2013

The United States will help Burma to repair some of the main infrastructure of the country’s transportation sector.

The assistance comes as a result of Burmese President Thein Sein’s meeting with US President Barack Obama during his recent official visit to the United States. It is part of a broader development aid package the United States will provide to Burma.

Repair of the Rangoon-Mandalay highway, a strategic road for much of Southeast and South Asia, is included in the plan.

“We are also working on the repair of Rangoon-Mandalay highway,” Obama said in a joint press conference after the meeting with Thein Sein at the White House on Monday.

In the 1970s, during the Cold War period, the United States offered Burma a similar repair plan, but Gen Ne Win, then head of Burma’s “Revolutionary Council,” turned it down.

The current administration, led by the reformist Thein Sein, now appears open to the aid.

“There may be a number of reasons why Ne Win rejected the offer,” said Hla Myint, a retired physics professor from Mandalay University.

“One reason could be his assumption that aircraft could land on this highway and another could be Chinese dissatisfaction with the repair [offer]. This road was strategic geopolitically and militarily,” he said.

The professor added that the quality of the Rangoon-Mandalay highway, which connects to the Stilwell Road in Kunming of China’s Yunnan Province, will be first-rate if US assistance goes toward its repair.

Apart from the infrastructure development plans, Thein Sein’s trip also saw Burma sign a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the United States on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Foreign Policy carried news on Monday that a contract worth US$1 billion over 30 years for the renovation and operation of the airport in Burma’s former capital Rangoon was likely to be brought up at the meeting between the two presidents.

It said the contract had attracted bids from some of the most powerful corporations in the world, including the New York-based ACO Investment Group, which plans to invest $200 million in the Rangoon International Airport if it wins the contract. Foreign Policy added that the Burmese government is expected to announce the winner by June 25.