Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Grand Delusion

July 13th, 2010 · 2 Comments

One of the creepiest things about Burma’s ruling junta is its insistence on creating the trappings of prosperity, even as the vast majority of the nation grapples with desperate economic circumstances. Take the recent Yangon Auto Show, which followed the Western blueprint to a T with scantily-clad models draped across shiny new vehicles. Yet the cars on display were little more than symbols of Burma’s foolish economic policies, which stress self-sufficiency to an absurd degree:

Ko Sai, the owner of Myanma Arrman (Strength) Automobile Manufacturing Company, said Chariot automobiles, jointly manufactured by Japan’s Mitsubishi and China’s Tang Fung companies, have been imported for sale by the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and Myanma Arrman.

“It is just like the Suzuki model manufactured by the Ministry of Industry No. 2. We bought car parts from factories in China and then reassembled them in the Shwe Pyi Thar industrial zone in Rangoon. Nice design and reasonable price attracts the customers,” Ko Sai said.

He said the Chariot MVP car comes in three price ranges: 63 million kyat (US $63,000), 58 million and 53 million.

Yes, you read that right: the cheapest Chariot MVP retails for more than most Mercedes-Benz C-Class cars, largely because Burma’s trade laws bar the import of most fully assembled vehicles. And the government is serious about preventing the smuggling of cars across the border with Thailand, punishing miscreants with instant confiscation. Never mind that this policy is apparently killing valuable trade and driving up food prices—all that matters to the junta is that the nation’s vehicles can plausibly carry the “Made in Burma” tag. Madness.


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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Buskertype

    I recently had the pleasure of visiting Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. It was the best economics lesson I’ve ever had. Thailand, which has been more or less stable and open throughout it’s modern history, is a first world nation. Vietnam, which spent the last 35 years evolving from revolutionary communism to free-market socialism, is prosperous, healthy and crowded, without any sign of serious poverty that I could discern.
    Cambodia, recently emerged from 40 years of instability, and still decidedly corrupt, was sparsely populated, with many people living in extreme poverty, and little development in evidence beyond the occasional chinese owned sweatshop. Nearly everyone in my party, including one of our Cambodian guides, found themselves hugging porcelain at some point in our time in Cambodia. I don’t mean to run it down, the people were wonderful and the landscape is stunning…
    Anyway, if Burma’s even worse off than Cambodia, which seems likely, that really is serious.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Buskertype: According to the UN Development Index, Burma is, indeed, worse off than Cambodia–though only slightly:


    The numbers don’t tell the whole story, of course. Cambodia’s suffering during the 1970s was unique, plus the country has just over a quarter of Burma’s population spread over a fairly large land mass.

    If it were run competently, Burma’s development could be akin to that of Thailand’s. It has fantastic natural resources, especially timber and minerals, that are now being sold off to the Chinese for a song. There is even a fair amount of oil in the country. But the junta’s top priority is survival, not development.