Myanmar President Thein Sein has no rift with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after she warned investors last week against “reckless optimism” about moves toward democracy, according to one of his advisers.
“A difference in opinion is quite natural in democratic societies,” Ko Ko Hlaing, the president’s top political adviser, told Bloomberg News in Singapore today. “She expressed her idea and we expressed our ideas. That’s all. There is no unhappiness, like brother and sister.”
Investors are watching for signs of discontent between Thein Sein and Suu Kyi amid concerns over the sustainability of the country’s political opening. Suu Kyi last week made her first overseas trip in 24 years and plans to visit Geneva, Norway, France and the U.K. later this month.
Myanmar’s leaders are wooing companies to invest and create jobs after about five decades of military rule left it among Asia’s poorest countries. The U.S. and European Union eased sanctions after April by-elections that saw Suu Kyi’s party win 43 of 45 seats, giving it some representation in the 664-member Parliament still dominated by Thein Sein.
Myanmar’s 64 million people are demanding electricity, roads, education, health care and a freer media, Ko Ko Hlaing told a seminar in Singapore hosted by the Institute of Southeast Asean Studies today. The reform process will continue at a swift pace because “everybody in our country from the president to the layman” wants change, he said.
“Rome cannot be built overnight,” Ko Ko Hlaing said. “We are trying our best but we have many challenges.”
In a speech to the World Economic Forum a week ago, Suu Kyi called job creation her top priority while declining to name industries the government should seek to attract. She called for “healthy skepticism” of Myanmar’s reform process.
“These days I’m coming across a lot of what I would call reckless optimism,” Suu Kyi told the World Economic Forum participants. “That is not going to help you. It’s not going to help us.”
She dismissed speculation yesterday that her trip had raised tensions with Thein Sein, who abruptly canceled an appearance at the same forum. Suu Kyi said yesterday she gave her remarks “so that people can make a correct assessment of the country,” according to the Associated Press.
In a sign of the challenges to governing the country, where more than a dozen ethnic armies control border areas, about 10 Muslims were killed this week by a mob following the rape and murder of a young woman in Rakhine state. The government has started an inquiry and the situation is under control, Ko Ko Hlaing said.
Oil, Gas Transparency
Industry Minister Soe Thane told the conference in Singapore that the government is seeking investments in the tourism and natural resources sectors. Myanmar plans to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which calls for governments to disclose all payments from oil, gas and mining companies, Soe Thane said in a video address.
Natural gas exports increased to about $3 billion last year and are set to “increase sharply” in 2013 as more gas fields and pipelines become operational, according to the Asian Development Bank. Chevron Corp. (CVX:US), Total SA (FP) and China National Petroleum Corp. are among companies with oil and gas investments in Myanmar, which is also rich in gold and gemstones.
“We want to intensively court foreign investments,” Soe Thane said. “Necessary steps, accordingly, have been taken to create an investment friendly climate for foreign investors.”
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