The most recent monthly installment at Mekong Currents is a wide-ranging discussion titled “What to do with Burma?“. It focuses on regional efforts to integrate and develop Southeast Asia’s most controversial country.

Written by Rosalia Sciortino – a long-time Southeast Asia analyst who is currently an Associate Professor at Mahidol University – this month’s essay overviews Burma’s place in the development of the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Sciortino provides a neat summary of recent events and also offers some helpful contextualisation of road construction efforts in Burma. New Mandala readers with an interest in Burma’s development will find her general analysis very helpful.

Of current efforts to build an East-West transport corridor across Burma she writes:

…this construction is made possible by collaboration between the Ministry of Construction in Myanmar and the Department of Highways of Thailand under the Neighbouring Countries Economic Development Fund, managed by the Thai Ministry of Finance. When finished, this long-awaited road would link the Indian and the Pacific oceans, greatly facilitating intraregional transportation and trade. It would also bring a step closer to realisation the vision of the Asian Highways, a pan-Asian network of roads stretching from Europe to the Far East.

The hesitance by the ADB and the contrasting willingness by neighbouring governments, to provide financial support to Burma under the same GMS scheme are emblematic of the unresolved position of this regional bloc toward its most ‘controversial’ member state.

She goes on to explain that:

It is not unthinkable that if the situation deteriorates further, and structural adjustments fail to be undertaken, even GMS corporations will lose some of their enthusiasm for investing in development projects and for-profit ventures in Burma, thus disrupting the process of market integration and expansion that is supposed to drive development in the sub-region.

Paradoxically, the GMS agenda may be jeopardised by the same governance issue that member countries have been so careful to avoid in order to formulate and implement their joint plans. The unquestioned inclusion of Burma in the bloc may eventually be challenged by the spill-over impacts of well meant, but ill-governed, sub-regional cooperation efforts.

The overview offered by Sciortino gives New Mandala readers a regional perspective on the development efforts that are underway in Burma. Of course, within Burma the conditions under which infrastructure development, and particularly road construction, occur are complicated by local political negotiations. For its broad vision of infrastructure construction and regional integration, Sciortino’s full analysis is definitely worth a read.