Fri 30 Dec 2011
Filed under: Inside Burma
George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager, has arrived in Burma on an eight-day visit that will take him to various parts of the country including the troubled Shan ethnic region and Rangoon, the former capital, where he is due to meet Burmese figures including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
His visit comes as Burma’s first civilian-led government in decades has undertaken a series of economic and political reforms to end the country’s international isolation after the military’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1988.
Mr Soros, 81, funnels about $2m in aid each year to Burma-related projects, mainly to pro-democracy groups both in and outside the country through his philanthropic organisation Open Society Foundation.
As a US citizen, he would have difficulty investing in Burma under America’s strict sanctions regime. However, US restrictions on trade and business with Burma may change in the coming year. The visit in early December by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the most senior US official to visit in more than 50 years, helped fuel a growing push in the US to loosen sanctions.
Among other representatives of key countries, William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, is to visit on January 5 and Japan’s foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, visited this week.
The Burmese government has also signalled its determination to diversify the small group of foreign investors who dominate its resources, construction and electricity sectors – primarily China and Thailand, and to a lesser extent India and Korea.
Burma recently decided to suspend China’s construction of a $3.6bn dam in the country’s northeast. Economists who monitor Burma say its foreign investment laws still require a lot of work before any significant number of western investors would commit to large projects or manufacturing operations.
However, Mr Gemba on Monday agreed at meetings in Naypyidaw, the capital, to work towards a bilateral investment pact between Japan and Burma.
A spokesman for Mr Soros declined to comment on his visit. But Burmese sources in Rangoon said he had arrived by private jet on December 26 with his two sons and was being accompanied in Burma by staff of his foundation.