The United States is ready to relax some sanctions on Myanmar and France will urge the European Union to ease bans, opening the door for foreign investment in the isolated state after Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s election victory.
Recent reforms have triggered intense investor interest in Myanmar and Japan’s second-biggest bank, Mizuho Corporate Bank, said it opened an office there on Friday in expectation of increasing numbers of companies entering a country rich in resources and with a strong workforce.
A senior executive of U.S.-based General Electric Co is reportedly due to arrive in the county on Friday while Japanese convenience store chain Lawson Inc. said it was also planning to move there.
Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won 43 of 45 seats contested in by-elections last Sunday, dealing a blow to the ruling military-backed party which won a 2010 election which Ms. Suu Kyi boycotted amid opposition complaints of rigging.
The polls followed a year of astonishing change in a country that was in the grip of military rule for decades: the government has freed hundreds of political prisoners, held talks with ethnic minority rebels, relaxed censorship, allowed trade unions and showed signs of pulling back from the orbit of China.
The United States and the European Union had hinted before the polls that they might lift some sanctions – imposed over the past two decades in response to human rights abuses – if the elections were free and fair.
Ally China has called for all sanctions against Myanmar to be lifted, saying it hoped the poll result would be good for stability.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed Ms. Suu Kyi’s landslide victory as a “dramatic demonstration of popular will”.
Ms. Clinton said the United States would ease some sanctions, including a ban on U.S. firms investing in or offering financial services to Myanmar, to recognize its fledgling democratic transition.
The United States will seek to name an ambassador to Myanmar after an absence of two decades, said Clinton, but stressed Washington wanted to move cautiously as the country had a long way to go to shake off decades of military rule.
Ms. Clinton’s announcement on Wednesday reflects a modest first step toward lifting the complex web of U.S. sanctions that have contributed to the country’s isolation for decades.
Ms. Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, was first put under house arrest in 1989 after the army crushed pro-democracy protests the previous year. She spent 15 of the next 21 years in detention.
U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said areas that might be ripe for easing sanctions were agriculture, tourism, telecommunications and banking.
Japan’s second-largest lender by assets, Mizuho Corporate Bank, a unit of Mizuho Financial Group, said it saw Myanmar as not only resource-rich but, with its 60 million people, a growing consumer market.
Its representative office in Yangon would enable it to collect information about the country and enhance the ability of Mizuho Group companies to support customers looking to enter or expand business there, it said.
Japan’s convenience store chain Lawson Inc. said it was aiming to open its first outlet in Myanmar by the end of this year in Yangon. Lawson runs more than 300 outlets in China and Indonesia and aims to expand into India and Vietnam as well.
Lawson spokeswoman Yayoi Sugihara said the company saw potential for strong growth in Myanmar: “We want to open our first store as early as this year and expand from there.”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Europe had to make a “gesture on easing some sanctions” following the by-elections.
The EU’s executive Commission hinted on Monday that the bloc’s foreign ministers would lift some sanctions when they meet on April 23.
While sanctions have blocked Western investments, China has become Myanmar’s biggest ally, investing in infrastructure, hydropower dams and twin oil-and-gas pipelines to help feed southern China’s growing energy needs.
“China hopes that this by-election will be conducive to pushing Myanmar’s political reconciliation process and Myanmar’s stability and development,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Thursday.
“China has noted that some Western countries have said they will lift sanctions on Myanmar. China has had a consistent stance on this issue. We welcome moves by these countries to lift sanctions on Myanmar and call on all parties to fully lift sanctions on Myanmar as soon as possible.”
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