On paper at least, Burma has all the elements required to create another Asian economic miracle. With a population of 48 million, the country has a large pool of low-cost workers custom-made to attract the labor-intensive manufacturing that jump-started income growth from South Korea to Malaysia.
Natural resources, such as timber and minerals, could woo billions in foreign investment. And its strategic position nestled between China and India could turn Burma into a prime location for tapping into the megagrowth of those two Asian giants.Translating that promise into real dollars isn’t going to be easy, however. Lots of nations possess the potential for economic greatness. The problem is that few are ever able to realize it. Burma has been a case study in that failure.
For 50 years now, Burma has been one of Asia’s great disappointments. After World War II, it was one of the region’s richest nations; today, it has sunk to among its poorest. Behind the woes is crushingly awful economic management by a military dictatorship that brutalized and isolated the country. While its neighbors Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia joined the ranks of Asia’s tiger economies, Burma wallowed in poverty, penalized by sanctions and impoverished by an unwillingness to reform politically or economically.