Perceptions of Chinese investment in Myanmar

Research to date supports the idea that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is conducive for growth and poverty alleviation. Apart from economic benefits, the current literature argues that FDI and international market integration promote democratisation and reduce the incidence of armed conflicts in the long run. Such findings hold important implications for an increasingly open Myanmar economy.

Myanmar has been one of the largest destinations for Chinese infrastructure investment over the past decade, particularly in hydropower. In fact, 40% of Chinese-funded dams built since 2000 are located in Southeast Asia, and 30% in Myanmar alone. In addition, China was the single dominant investor before 2011, partly due to international sanctions, and provided more than 60% of the FDI in 2012, a major part of which flowed to the infrastructure sector, including power, transportation, and energy. Since 2011, Western countries have lifted sanctions on Myanmar and begun to ramp up investment. As a result, Myanmar has diversified its sources of foreign investment, but China remains the biggest source of FDI in terms of stock. With the establishment of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Silk Road Fund, and China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) strategy, Chinese firms will continue to play an important role in Myanmar.

In this context, this research project aims to answer: What is the Myanmar general public’s perception of Chinese investment in Myanmar? Does the public respond differently to various types of Chinese investment activities? How do attitudes towards Chinese investment translate into political relations with China? The main variables of interest are public attitudes toward Chinese investment projects as well as perceptions of political relations with China.

We plan to conduct a pilot study with a relatively smaller sample employing college student enumerators. We first recruit 40 undergraduate students at the Department of International Relations at the University of Yangon. Each student enumerator will conduct at least 20 face-to-face surveys when they return to their hometown for the Burmese New Year during summer break (May-June 2017). After asking general information questions, we expose participants from different groups to a fake news article on a proposed FDI project in Myanmar. Then we compare their viewpoints to various types of Chinese investment projects. This in-person survey will be supplemented by a more experimental survey administered to student unions groups throughout Myanmar using Facebook.