Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is putting a huge effort into helping the Dawei special economic zone project materialise, to make it the flagship in a new chapter of relations between Thailand and Myanmar.
She has made it a national agenda and spends every single opportunity she can find with the Myanmar leader to talk about the project.
Her ministers are supporting her by inviting all investors they meet around the world to join in, too.
Yingluck met Myanmar President Thein Sein in New York last week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to endorse the structure and elements of a joint working group to run the project. She hopes to announce cooperation on the Dawei project as a role model of connectivity to the Asean summit in Phnom Penh next month. It is obvious that Yingluck wants to see the project realised, or at least begin to take shape when she is still in office.
The Dawei project is important for Yingluck as it was initiated by her elder brother and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra years ago. It is Yingluck’s mission to make Thaksin’s dream come true.
Like Thaksin, Yingluck has an economic sense when implementing international cooperation projects. The Dawei project combines many features – deep seaport, industrial estate, logistic hub and transportation link – and would be an important gateway for Thailand to the Indian Ocean, Middle East, Africa and Europe. For Myanmar, it could be a link and connecting point to mainland Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Thaksin, who has good connections with Myanmar leaders, paved the way for his younger sister to build up the project since her arrival in office and her visit to Myanmar for the first time last year. Thaksin reportedly visited Myanmar a few days ahead of Yingluck. He also visited the Dawei project’s site as well as discussed with Myanmar leaders possible industries to operate in the Dawei project.
The Dawei project is extremely large. Perhaps the original design was too big for a sole company like Italian-Thai Development, which obtained the concession, to run the project alone. The first phase involved more than Bt300-billion in investment costs. Italian-Thai Development‘s progress on the project has been slow since it obtained the concession four years ago.
It was widely reported that Myanmar authorities had no confidence in the Thai company and even lacked trust in the Thai authority’s sincerity over the development project.
What Yingluck has done over the past months has been to boost confidence in the project and demonstrate her government is sincere. She signed another memorandum of understanding on comprehensive development of the Dawei Special Economic Zone and its related project areas in July when Thein Sein visited Thailand.
Under the new MoU, she agreed with Thein Sein to form a joint working group, which was endorsed during the meeting in New York. This group would be co-chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong and a vice president of Myanmar. Yingluck has given the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand the job of exploring all possibilities to encourage investment in the project.
A joint secretariat under the working group is planned to oversee cooperation for the Dawei project. The National Economic and Social Development Board would be the Thai secretariat and Myanmar will commission one of its planners to work with it. There would be six subcommittees to take care of each sector in the project.
Yingluck is handling the details well and with care as if it was her pet project. The next step is to see how it can be developed and who would really get the benefit.