Indeed, that was what nearly happened In 2011, the military government announced that it would liberalise the economy and create a “discipline-flourishing democracy”. Foreign investment poured into the country, growing to a peak of US$38 billion in 2016.
But on 1 February 2021, the military staged a coup d’etat, citing irregularities in the most recent elections held in late 2020. It has declared a state of emergency for one year and began closing the borders, restricting travel and electronic communications nationwide.
By the second day of the coup, thousands of protesters were marching in the streets of Yangon. Other protests erupted nationwide, largely halting commerce and transportation. Despite the military’s arrests and killings of protesters, the first weeks of the coup found growing public participation, including groups of civil servants, teachers, students, workers, monks and religious leaders.
FOREIGN FIRMS RATTLED
Shortly after the military seized power, 55 foreign investors in Myanmar from Coca Cola to Facebook signed a statement committing to the country and employees there during developments of “deep concern”.
Two months on, those pledges are being sorely tested with Myanmar’s economy all but paralysed by massive anti-coup protests, widespread strikes and the junta’s killing of dozens of protesters drawing calls for boycotts and sanctions.
A sudden about-turn from Australia’s Woodside Petroleum, one of the signatories to the statement, exemplifies the challenges. It said it was reducing its presence in the country amid concerns about violence and would pull its offshore exploration team – just one week after saying drilling would not be affected.
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