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TheStreet Open House

Suu Kyi Visit Highlights Japan's Myanmar Push

Now that Myanmar is open for business, the rush of investors means strong competition: The list of visitors to Myanmar's Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, which shows scores of photos of visitors perched on brown leather sofas topped with white lace antimacassars, reads like a "Who's Who" of international commerce: equity investors from China, Japanese logistics companies and megabanks and big global conglomerates such as Nestle, Unilever (UL) and Dupont (DD).

American brands Ford Motor (F), PepsiCo (PEP), Coca-Cola (KO), GE (GE), Caterpillar (CAT) and Danish brewer Carlsberg have all signed distribution deals in Myanmar.

Balancing the interests of competing foreign investors and the public can be tricky, as Suu Kyi herself found after villages confronted her to demand an explanation for her support of the Letpadaung copper mine project, which is partly owned by a Chinese company.

An official panel headed by Suu Kyi that assessed the situation ruled that the mining contract should be honored for the sake of good relations with China, and to reassure other foreign investors.

China is not the only investor to face scrutiny over its projects: A nongovernmental group, MekongWatch, has been lobbying on behalf of some 3,900 villagers who were ordered to vacate land to make way for the Thilawa special economic zone.

"The Myanmar government says they are squatters and until recently the Japanese government said it was the responsibility of the recipient government to do something," said Yuki Akimoto, a spokeswoman for the group.

Akimoto said she was thinking hard about how to broach the issue with Suu Kyi in a planned meeting in Tokyo, given the various complications of the issue. As is often the case, land titles and ownership remain unclear, and a surge in property prices in booming Yangon is prompting speculative buying. But ultimately, it is the poor who are most likely to lose their livelihoods.

"Despite the so-called reforms, there are few tools ordinary citizens can use to protect their rights," she said.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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