Bangkok, January 15:

Despite growing frustration in Southeast Asia over military-ruled Myanmar’s politics, the nation’s neighbors are still eagerly eyeing its energy resources — and spending billions in the process.

A combination of sanctions and domestic political pressure prevent most western companies from tapping into Myanmar’s reserves. But Asian countries have shown no such qualms, even though Myanmar’s human rights record and its failure to deliver on promised democratic reforms have increasingly become a thorn in the side of the region.

The UN Security Council in December held an unprecedented briefing on Myanmar to signal to its military rulers that they must stop stalling on genuine democratic reforms. The ASEAN followed that up with unusually tough talk at its annual summit. Nonetheless, Myanmar’s neighbours are increasingly turning to Myanmar to solve their energy problems at home, and throwing the generals an economic lifeline.

“With the US sanctions, you block the US companies, but there’s plenty of others to come in the wake,” said Andrew Symon, a researcher at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, “The South Asian, Southest Asian firms have got capital, they’ve got the technology” to tap Myanmar’s resources on their own,” he said.

India has been working on a proposal to pipe the gas across Bangladesh, but has run into problems negotiating the deal with Dhaka. Alternatively, the fields could be used to provide liquified natural gas (LNG) for possible export to South Korea or other markets.