The Buzz

Riding the Tiger

If only all think-tank types were as logical and easy to read as Joshua Kurlantzick. His recent piece on the blog "Asia Unbound" at the Council on Foreign Relations Myanmarthe Next Asian Tiger Cub Economy?” proves a succinct, thoughtful analysis of Burma’s hidden challenges for Western business development. Many corporations are hopeful that the United States will soon drop its sanctions against investment there.

While some might compare Burma today to Vietnam in the early ’90s, Kurlantzick rightly points out that, with the exception of North Korea, Burma is one of the least technologically advanced nations in Asia right now. Despite some talk of computer science by the government in recent years, he notes both the social and logistical challenges of Burma’s development: “It would be very hard for a multinational to build an office of any size in Myanmar doing medium-value or high-value added work, without recruiting many Burmese exiles to come back to the country, which probably is not going to happen at this point.”

The country’s sizable population and natural resources are appealing, and Kurlantzick would only do himself a favor by expanding on his counterarguments, which are very reasonable but perhaps brief. He still comes out strong though and pays deserved heed to that fact that we are certainly not the only ones who have taken note of Burma’s potential: “Any Western companies coming in will start with at least a ten-year disadvantage against Chinese firms already established in Myanmar, and with shorter supply chains, more diplomatic support, and large pools of cash.”

What Kurlantzick lacks in style, he makes up for in well-structured responses that call to mind an academic rigor missing from too much of today’s editorial dialog. He might become a snooze in longer length, but this short, clean piece is notable for its clarity and focus.