The Philippines has offered to buy rice from Myanmar through a government-to-government channel, following the fall of rice prices in Myanmar as Chinese demand slows, according to media reports.
The recent depreciation of the yuan has weakened the competitiveness of Myanmar's rice in the Chinese market, decreasing demand for Myanmar rice in China. This has caught the public's attention, as some local business owners have suffered from a reduction in the price of ordinary rice, and now the Philippines has stepped in. According to a report posted on Manila-based news website inquirer.net on Wednesday, the Philippines has contacted the Myanmar Embassy requesting to buy Myanmar rice, even though the Philippines normally imports rice from Vietnam.
This latest friendly gesture by the Philippines would mean closer intergovernmental cooperation between Myanmar and the Philippines. In contrast, although a large number of self-employed businesspeople and small private firms have entered Myanmar's markets as the country's reform and opening-up process has deepened, some observers have become aware of the relative inadequacy of China's interactions with Myanmar's new government.
To reward Myanmar's historic progress in political reform, the U.S. resumed diplomatic relations with Myanmar at the ambassadorial level in 2012 and now allows U.S. companies to invest in Myanmar, while some other countries have taken more aggressive steps in this regard. The Financial Times said last week that Japan has intensified its charm and investment offensive in Myanmar in a bid to become more powerful in Southeast Asia to counterbalance China.
China now may face a far more complicated situation in its relations with Myanmar as some Western countries compete to woo the nation's new government. Though it is clear that Beijing does not want to make Myanmar into a battleground for big powers to flaunt their economic influence, perhaps now is the time for China to consider taking more active measures to help Myanmar reconstruct its economy.
Myanmar is in its initial stage of economic development, and there are many industries in the country that are waiting to be explored and developed. Despite the increasing prosperity of private investment between China and Myanmar, the two countries' shared economic ties may need to be further enhanced at the national level.
Several different areas of China and Myanmar's economies are particularly complementary to each other: Myanmar has the edge in agriculture sectors but requires China's capital and more advanced technology to propel the nation's industrialization and modernization. The first step to enhance bilateral ties may be to help Myanmar expand its exports of agriculture goods to China in order to help Myanmar gain the foreign exchange needed to pay for improving its infrastructure and pushing forward its industrialization. In this regard, the Philippines' proposal to buy Myanmar rice through a government-to-government channel may provide a good example for China to follow.