The Rape of Burma

SYDNEY – Burma, once the richest country in Southeast Asia, today is mired in deep poverty. Its economy ruined by nearly 50 years of economic mismanagement under military rule, the only international rankings that it tops are those for most corrupt nation, world’s worst health system, and lowest spending on education – “accolades” that are sadly indicative of its people’s suffering.

And yet, over the last few years Burma has also emerged as a significant producer of energy in Southeast Asia. Thanks to large fields of recoverable natural gas located offshore, Burma now earns substantial foreign exchange revenues.

At present, most of these revenues ($1-1.5 billion per year, depending on price fluctuations) come from Thailand. Gas from Burma, piped onshore from the Gulf of Martaban, generates around 20% of Bangkok’s electricity supply.

If all goes well, new gas fields recently discovered in the Bay of Bengal will provide even more gas for China’s Yunnan Province. To get the gas into Yunnan, a much longer pipeline – running the length of Burma – must be built. The project will be as difficult as it will be controversial. But, with no environmental or labor standards to contend with, few doubt that the pipeline will proceed.