AP: ‘Myanmar telecom deal with Qatar firm sparks ire’

The AP reports:

Religious tensions engulfing Myanmar spread Friday to the world of big business: Monks and others in the Buddhist-dominated country demanded to know why a lucrative license for a new national mobile phone network had gone to a company from a Muslim nation.

There’s more on the deal itself from Bloomberg:

Norway’s Telenor ASA (TEL) and Ooredoo QSC (QTEL) of Qatar won licenses to expand telecommunications in Myanmar, one of the world’s last remaining untapped markets where only about one in 10 people has a mobile phone.

The two carriers beat nine other bidders including Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (ST), billionaire George Soros and Bharti Airtel Ltd. (BHARTI) in the auction. A France Telecom SA-Marubeni Corp. group was named as a backup in case one of the winners doesn’t fulfill final requirements.

The decision ends a six-month race that drew 91 expressions of interest to operate in the country of 64 million people. The licenses are among the biggest prizes for foreign companies since President Thein Sein moved to allow greater political and economic freedom after taking power in 2011. They’ll be awarded according to a telecommunications law that parliament expects to adopt soon, according to a statement yesterday.

(All emphasis mine.)

‘The New Myanmar': All 6 episodes of Anasuya’s new show

Last month I mentioned that the first two episodes of “The New Myanmar,” hosted by Anasuya Sanyal — also known as my amazing wife — were available online.

The show’s final four episodes have now aired on Channel NewsAsia, as well, and I wanted to embed them here.

Again, here are the first two shows:

Episode one, “Artistic Freedom,” about music and the arts in the country:

Episode two, about Yangon’s architectural heritage:

And now for the newer shows:

Episode three, on business development in Myanmar:

Episode four, on media in the country:

Episode five, about resolving the country’s ethnic conflicts:

And, finally, episode six, on what lies ahead for Myanmar:

‘The New Myanmar': First Two Episodes Available Online

I mentioned a few weeks back that Anasuya’s new Channel NewsAsia TV show, “The New Myanmar,” would soon air.

Well, the first two episodes have been broadcast, and they’re now available online.

Embedded above on online here is episode one, “Artistic Freedom,” about music and the arts in the country.

And embedded above on and online here is episode two, “Saving Yangon,” about the city’s architectural heritage.

There are several more episodes to come. You can see them live on Channel NewsAsia on Mondays from 8:30 to 9 p.m. Singapore time.

Anasuya’s New Documentary Series on Myanmar

Here’s the trailer for a new Channel NewsAsia documentary series called “The New Myanmar.”

The series is hosted by Anasuya Sanyal, otherwise known as my amazing wife.

The first show airs Monday, May 6 from 8:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. Singapore time, and the series runs through June 10.

Keep an eye out if you receive Channel NewsAsia, or try to catch the show live online when it airs.

(Note: The trailer, as embedded above, may not display properly on a mobile device, but it should be viewable on a laptop or desktop computer.)

Story of the Day, Obama’s Connection to Myanmar Edition

The New York Times reports:

When President Obama lands in Yangon on Monday, he will be the first sitting American president to visit the country now known as Myanmar. But he will not be the first Obama to visit.

The president’s Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, spent part of World War II in what was then called Burma as a cook for a British Army captain. Although details are sometimes debated, the elder Mr. Obama’s Asian experience proved formative just as his grandson’s time growing up in Indonesia did decades later.

“His roots go through Burma,” said Timothy Parsons, an African history professor at Washington University in St. Louis who wrote a book on the colonial East African military. “It is kind of an odd intersection of his life. It’s like the three corners of the triangle come together — America, East Africa and Southeast Asia.”

Story of the Day, U.S.-Asean Relations Edition

Following my post yesterday about President Obama’s upcoming Southeast Asia visit this weekend, I wanted share another story on U.S. engagement with the region.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “has ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review military ethics training in the wake of a series of investigations that involve high-ranking military officers’ conduct…”

And:

Speaking at a news conference in Bangkok earlier Thursday after renewing the U.S.’s military relationship with treaty ally Thailand, Mr. Panetta said he isn’t aware of any additional government or military officials who received emails from Ms. Kelley.

The scandal has emerged as a major embarrassment for the U.S. military establishment, overshadowing not only Mr. Panetta’s trip to Australia, Thailand and Cambodia, but also Mr. Obama’s scheduled visits to Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, where he plans to attend a major regional summit. The U.S. “pivot” back to the Pacific is a hallmark of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy, and analysts expect Washington to step up its bid re-engage with East Asia over the next four years.

Among other things, the visits to the region of top U.S. leaders are expected to focus on finding a common approach with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations on resolving competing territorial claims with China in the South China Sea. The U.S. also hopes to improve military-to-military cooperation in the region, including with the armed forces of Myanmar, until recently viewed with deep suspicion by Washington for its North Korea-backed weapons program.

“Given the rising military power of China and ongoing tensions in the South China Sea, there was a consensus—within Washington, anyway—that America has to increase its military presence in Southeast Asia,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “Expect a lot more ship visits, training exercises with the armed forces of Southeast Asia and capacity building support, especially with the Philippines, which is the weakest link in the Asean chain.”

President Obama to Visit Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia

I wanted to point out a few stories ahead of President Obama’s upcoming Southeast Asia trip.

Obama will be Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia from Saturday November 17 through Tuesday November 20.

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok provides details on Obama’s itinerary:

In Thailand, he will meet with Prime Minister Yingluck to mark 180 years of diplomatic relations and reaffirm the strength of our alliance. In Burma, the President will meet with President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi and speak to civil society to encourage Burma’s ongoing democratic transition. In Cambodia, the President will attend the East Asia Summit and meet with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The Bangkok Post says:

Despite the 12-hour time difference between Washington DC and Bangkok, US President Barack Obama will not even set foot in his hotel until after the day’s business here is finished.

The US president will arrive on Sunday afternoon at Don Mueang airport and travel directly to the Grand Palace where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be waiting for him, a city police source said.

They will travel on to Siriraj Hospital where they will have an audience with His Majesty the King, the source added.

Mr Obama would then travel to Government House to have dinner with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, said the source, adding that after the dinner, he would have a meeting with about 600 US embassy staff at Chulalongkorn University’s sports complex.

At the end of the day, Mr Obama would check in at the Four Seasons Hotel on Ratchaprasong Road.

Obama will speak at Yangon University on Monday, according to the The New York Times.

The scars of military rule run deep at Yangon University — decrepit buildings, broken sidewalks and mold everywhere. But with plans for President Obama to visit on Monday, hundreds of workers have converged in an urgent effort to spruce up the campus. Mr. Obama’s trip to Myanmar will be the first by an American president, and the authorities are creating something of a Potemkin campus to greet him.

Meanwhile, and an op-ed in today’s Times by Bill Richardson and Mickey Bergman surveys political reforms in Myanmar:

After meeting with an array of leaders in Myanmar, we believe that Thein Sein is committed to transitioning to democracy. But the jury is still out on whether the reform effort will succeed. This is not a revolution like we’ve seen in Middle East countries during the last two years. This is a calculated and contained process — a reform movement from within. On the one hand, it has to be slow and deliberate to allow for governing capacity to be built, as well as to prevent those who prefer the status quo from blocking change, and to keep oligarchs from seizing control and plundering Myanmar’s abundant natural resources. On the other hand, it does need to move quickly so that the population will feel the benefits of reform. Success will rely heavily on full engagement and investment from abroad.

And Lewis M. Simons writes in an op-ed about Obama’s “Asian-style diplomacy”:

As President Obama heads to Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos this week and next, intent on reversing China’s drive to tighten its grasp on Southeast Asia, he is exercising an uncannily Asian-style diplomacy.

By moving calmly into China’s backyard, without threats or in-your-face muscularity, he is proving himself adept at playing by Asian rules. How subtle of him. And smart.

On the subject of Cambodia and Hun Sen, Mark McDonald writes in the IHT:

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will visit Southeast Asia this week, promoting American commercial interests in Singapore, reinforcing the U.S. military alliance with Thailand and putting the presidential imprimatur on democratic reforms in Myanmar.

But their stop in Cambodia for a regional summit meeting next week will be diplomatically stickier: Photo opportunities with Hun Sen, the authoritarian prime minister of Cambodia, will be hard to avoid.

Thein Sein in Thailand

Bloomberg says:

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said her government was committed to seeing “concrete progress” in the development of the $8.6 billion Dawei port and industrial zone in neighboring Myanmar.

Thailand and Myanmar agreed to hold ministerial-level meetings starting next month to push forward with the project, Yingluck told reporters in a joint briefing with Myanmar President Thein Sein today in Bangkok.

Developer Italian-Thai Development Pcl (ITD) has found it difficult to secure funds for the project at Dawei, which sits about 350 kilometers (219 miles) west of Bangkok. The company is courting Japan to secure $12.5 billion in loan agreements this year to build the port, roads, power plants and a railway, Chairman Premchai Karnasuta said on Dec. 26.

And:

Thein Sein arrived yesterday for a three-day trip and visited Laem Chabang port, near Thailand’s biggest industrial zone that companies such as Ford Motor Co. (F) (F) and Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) use as a production base. Thailand and Myanmar plan to link Laem Chabang with Dawei, and may open three more permanent checkpoints on their shared border, Yingluck said.

There’s also a story today from The Bangkok Post. And the AP had a piece yesterday.