Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chinese Firms in Myanmar Attempt to Fix Image Problem

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chinese Firms in Myanmar Attempt to Fix Image Problem

Article excerpt

Facing unexpected turbulence over its investments in Myanmar, China is employing a strategy more commonly used by Western corporations: The "corporate social responsibility" campaign.

Hence last week's rollout of new guidelines to be followed by Chinese firms doing business here in Myanmar (Burma), a country that until recently had been viewed by many as a Chinese client state.

The move speaks to China's image problem not only in Myanmar, but in many of the Asian and African countries where it operates copper mines, dams, and oil fields amid complaints of safety violations and environmental damage.

Gao Mingbo, the social media-savvy head of the political section at the Chinese Embassy here in Yangon, sees the Myanmar effort - which is now a staple of US corporate strategy in the developing world - as a "pilot" exercise for how Chinese companies should be doing business abroad.

But China's troubles in Myanmar are also a cautionary note for other countries looking for business in Myanmar, where people are now far less afraid to protest investments that may impinge on their rights. Protests over land rights and environmental damage associated with foreign investments are now common.

Myanmar's foreign investment commission is "attaching much more importance to the environmental and social issues than before," says Edwin Vanderbruggen, a Yangon-based attorney at VDB-Loi. "In that context investors from any country, including China, do well to position themselves stronger as responsible corporate citizens."

The move comes just as China prepares to switch on newly-built pipelines that will carry oil and natural gas across Myanmar, from the Bay of Bengal to China's Yunnan Province.

The pipelines drew protests from increasingly vocal Myanmar civil society groups over related land-grabs. It was similar to the controversy China's resource projects have caused elsewhere, but a surprise to Beijing, which some say had grown complacent in its relations with its neighbor to the southwest. …

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