The flying visit to Myanmar by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Monday had more of a look of desperation about it than confidence. It revealed deep trouble for the plan to build a deep-sea port at Dawei. The Dawei deal is short of money, backers, business confidence and popular support. Ms Yingluck deserves some credit for revealing these problems, although that was probably not her intention. She should put this undertaking on hold to allow a reset and rethink of the Dawei project.
Dawei is one of those programmes that seemed like a good idea in very tight and rarefied business-government circles. The more it has been exposed to public scrutiny, the less attractive it appears. On the one hand, it sounds like a good idea to send Thai goods on a short trip overland for shipment from Dawei, instead of routing ships for two or three days through the crowded Malacca Straits. But so does the 50-year-old plan to build the Isthmus of Kra canal.
The Dawei project has gone from enthusiasm to realism in the past year. The would-be source of funds is Japan, and it has dropped out. The would-be builder is Italian-Thai Development Plc, whose spirit has sagged in direct relation to its chances of getting reliable funding. Groups in Myanmar, Thailand and outside the region are concerned about the predictable damage that will be done. The Myanmar people have shown no enthusiasm for the claimed business prosperity, and Myanmar business circles have switched their attention to Thilawa, a planned and probably feasible economic zone near Yangon.
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