The finding of a report released on Thursday that the rise in foreign investment in Myanmar's ethnic regions risks exacerbating conflicts and environmental destruction should come as a surprise to no one. Throughout history and throughout the world the efforts of more developed nations to obtain the resources of less developed nations have exacerbated conflicts with indigenous peoples and led to environmental destruction. But the report by the Transnational Institute and the Burma [Myanmar] Centre Netherlands, titled "Developing disparity: Regional investment in Burma's borderlands", does serve as a timely reminder that the interests and wishes of ethnic groups in Myanmar must be taken into account by foreign corporations and the central government in order to promote peace, not to mention a good business environment.
The report says: "Foreign investment in these resource-rich yet conflict-ridden ethnic borderlands is likely to be as important as domestic politics in shaping Burma's future. Such investment is not conflict-neutral and has in some cases fuelled local grievances and stimulated ethnic conflict." Of course, there have already been several ethnic conflicts directly associated with foreign-initiated projects in Myanmar. Thai and Chinese companies have traditionally been the biggest investors in the country, and the report singles them out for exploiting border regions, saying that "natural resources are being extracted at low costs and large profits ... with very little reinvested into the area."
A primary cause for the reigniting of hostilities between the central government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) after a 17-year ceasefire was resentment over Chinese hydropower projects in Kachin state. Work on the Myitsone dam project was suspended indefinitely in September 2011 after widespread protests, and the Dapein dam project has since been forced to shut down because of the fighting in Kachin state. The Chinese-backed Shwe pipeline project, due to begin pumping oil and gas from the Bay of Bengal in May, passes through northern Shan state close to the conflict zone.