Japan Inc scrambles to assess fallout of coup in SE Asia’s “last big frontier” Myanmar

Photo: Reuters

Japanese companies from retail giant Aeon Co to auto-parts maker Denso Corp scrambled to assess the turmoil in Myanmar on Monday after a coup in the country once feted as Southeast Asia’s last big frontier.

The Myanmar military seized power against the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other leaders of her party in early morning raids.

Major Japanese firms including Kirin Holdings have pushed into Myanmar since Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide election in 2015 and established the first civilian government in half a century.

Although some investors have grown wary over the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority, hundreds of Japanese companies have remained in Myanmar, drawn by an emerging market of more than 50 million people.

One of those companies, Denso, said it was struggling to reach staff after phone and internet connections were disrupted.

“We haven’t been able to establish contact with them, so we don’t know what the situation is like,” a spokeswoman said.

A spokesman for Aeon, which has been planning to open a shopping mall in Myanmar in 2023, said it finally got through to local staff via the internet.

“We have not made any decisions,” he said. “For now, we are just closely monitoring the situation.”

Under pressure

The coup heaps more pressure on beermaker Kirin, which has been reassessing its Myanmar venture after the United Nations identified owners of Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company (MEHL), Kirin’s local partner, as members of the Myanmar military.

The military has been accused of genocide and other war crimes against the Rohingya. Myanmar denies genocide, saying its military was carrying out legitimate operations against Rohingya insurgents who attacked police posts.

A Kirin spokesman said it was monitoring the situation, and still planned to take until the end of April to make a decision about its activities in Myanmar. It recently said a third-party probe into MEHL’s military connections had yielded “inconclusive” results.

Kirin remains on UK-based pressure group Burma Campaign’s “Dirty List” of international companies doing business with the military.

Myanmar accounts for less than 5% of Kirin’s global beer sales, but is one of only a handful of its growing markets.

Veteran public relations consultant Bob Pickard said companies now faced a growing public relations risk.

Japanese companies invested in Myanmar and especially those with military connections now need to be agile in articulating what these events mean for them,” said Pickard, who worked in Japan for many years.

“‘Business as usual’ poses an acute risk of public relations disaster for any Japanese companies that are slow to condemn what has happened today.”

Reuters

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.