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Gas-rich Myanmar still under sanctions pressure

Suu Kyi tells U.S. secretary of state she's not afraid of scrutiny.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Gas-rich Myanmar still under sanctions pressure
Myanmar Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi tells visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry she's not afraid of scrutiny Photo by Hongsar Ramonya/ UPI | License Photo

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar, May 23 (UPI) -- With energy companies examining the reserve potential in a re-emerging Myanmar, the country's foreign minister said she's not afraid of sanctions.

Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi hosted U.S. Secretary John Kerry during a weekend visit that coincided with a reshaping of U.S. policies in Asia. Washington during the weekend lifted an arms embargo on Vietnam as it seeks to contain a Chinese move to gain more leverage in the Asia-Pacific.

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Washington recently lifted some of the economic pressure on Myanmar, known formerly as Burma, as the country takes further steps away from decades of military rule. Kerry told the foreign minister, however, there were still concerns about maneuvering through Myanmar's political space.

"We're not afraid of sanctions," Suu Kyi countered. "We're not afraid of scrutiny."

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Sanctions pressures on Myanmar eased after 2010 elections, giving foreign investors more opportunities in the once-isolated country. Htin Kyaw, a close confidant of democracy leader Suu Kyi, was sworn in this year as the first civilian president of the country since 1962. In his inaugural address, he said the much-needed reforms would address many of Myanmar's long-term desires.

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The Asian Development Bank said developing countries in the Asia-Pacific, including Myanmar, are expected to make a "strong contribution" to global economic health in the coming years. Since 2009, the region has accounted for close to 60 percent of the global growth in gross domestic product.

In terms of energy, Australian energy company Woodside Petroleum was among those signing up recently for the opportunity to tap into frontier basins off the western Myanmar coast and last week said it was increasing its estimates for the reserve potential offshore.

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Kerry stressed that easing sanctions on Myanmar would encourage inclusive economic growth and attract more foreign capital to the country. At the same time, he said, some pressures will remain until civilian rule is fully consolidated in Myanmar's government.

"I know that the legacy of more than half a century of military rule has not yet been completely erased," he said.

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