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Asia banking: Myanmar’s makeover

Bankers are always looking for a new frontier, and they think they’ve found one in Myanmar. While the country’s potential is unquestionable, those hoping to turn a quick profit are likely to be sorely disappointed.

by Sara Webb

Onward, Aung Ko, Burma, Myanmar

'Onward' by Aung Ko

Artist Aung Ko is well aware of the frustrating pace of reform in Myanmar, four years into the country’s economic overhaul. His installation ‘Onward’, a star exhibit at The River Gallery in downtown Yangon, depicts a group of shimmering gold men riding a decrepit rickshaw: while the life-sized driver pedals hard and another man pushes from behind, the gilded passengers do nothing to help get the vehicle moving.

It’s a striking metaphor for this southeast Asian frontier market, flagged by hopeful bankers and investors as the “Next Big Thing” among emerging economies.

Hampered by a history of economic mismanagement, corruption and isolation, Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in Asia. Under its military rulers, who crushed dissent and kept Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, Myanmar spent decades crippled by sanctions and cut off from the outside world. It finally came in from the political cold in early 2011 when a semi-civilian government led by a former general, Thein Sein, embarked on a string of reforms intended to modernize its backward economy.

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