Bridget Welsh

Associate Professor in Political Science, Singapore management University

ASEAN should provide technical expertise to Myanmar


The country “is on the right track, compared to where it was”, according to Bridget Welsh. “And the question becomes how well they will be able to take the obstacles off the track to keep the momentum going.”

Reaction from local businessmen
Myanmar businessmen are concerned about the presence of foreign investors, “because all these foreigners who come in have capital, resources, and experience”, Dr Welsh said.

Role of ASEAN businessmen in Myanmar
ASEAN businessmen can indeed help to boost Myanmar’s economy with their capital, “But I think what is really important is the technical expertise that ASEAN can bring in, and the people-to-people ties”, Dr Welsh said.

Extracts from the Q&A session

CARI: First question, what are the people’s reaction to all this fuss about Myanmar, and the attention that it’s getting?

Bridget Welsh: I think, this is creating a sense of national pride, but [on the] ground there are still a lot of reforms that have not been. People are still hoping, and waiting, to see what is happening. The issue that has been most challenging is inflation. And the economic bread and butter issue still remains high on the concerns of ordinary people. But the international recognition of Myanmar has really inspired national pride, and created a certain degree of optimism among ordinary people.

CARI: What about the businessmen in Myanmar itself? What are they saying with all these foreign businesses coming in? How are they reacting?

Bridget Welsh: Well, there are two things. There are some concerns about their own competitiveness, because all these foreigners who come in have capital, resources, and experience. And there is another group that is actually looking for opportunities in trying to create leverages, and to have joint-ventures. But I think everyone sees the framework as generally positive, there are high expectations, there is inertia and implementation issues that have been ongoing. So I think there is a certain degree of, not necessarily negativity, but of frustration, hope, and anxiousness for the process to move forward in a more inclusive way that actually protects local interests but at the same time facilitates foreign actors.

CARI: What role can ASEAN businessmen play to help Myanmar’s economic reform?

Bridget Welsh: They are bringing in money. But I think what is really important is the technical expertise that ASEAN can bring in, and the people-to-people ties. ASEAN has the comparative advantage because ASEAN understands ASEAN countries. One has to appreciate that Myanmar is a country that has been in ASEAN, despite many challenges for many years. So there is a basis that ASEAN businessmen have that other countries don’t.

CARI: One last question, is Myanmar on the right track? Bridget Welsh: Yes, it is on the right track, compared to where it was. But I think, there are lots of obstacles along the track ahead. And the question becomes how well they will be able to take the obstacles off the track to keep the momentum going.

CARI: Thank you very much for your time.


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