Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s effective opposition leader, irritated the regime with her recent caution against “reckless optimism” on the country’s reform and opening. But there is much truth in her warning. Foreign governments and investors should keep a sceptical eye on President Thein Sein’s political and economic reforms. Admirable as far as they go, they remain limited and are far from irreversible.
Optimism on Myanmar and its prospects has been a rare commodity for much of the past half-century. The country was locked away by the autarchic policies of successive military regimes and hemmed in by international sanctions. Myanmar was bypassed by the economic forces that transformed its peers and neighbours, so the economy was completely off international investors’ radar.
In 2012, all that seems to have changed. Flights to Myanmar these days are bursting with prospectors of every conceivable kind, whose only remaining anxiety seems to be that they may miss out on what they dimly perceive to be the rise of Asia’s last remaining “tiger”.
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Sean Turnell is an associate professor in economics at Macquarie University in Sydney.