Google Inc executive chairman Eric Schmidt will become the first high-profile technology company executive to visit Myanmar in the wake of reforms that prompted Western nations to ease sanctions following decades of military dictatorship.
The visit next week to Myanmar, where Schmidt will speak at a technology and communications park and meet with government officials, is just one stop in a multi-country Asian tour to promote Internet access, Google said.
Since Myanmar’s military stepped aside and a quasi-civilian government was installed in 2011, setting off a wave of political and economic reforms, the country has enjoyed a surge of interest from overseas businesses.
The nation is the last virgin territory for businesses in Asia, with untapped markets including the telecoms sector. Mobile penetration in the country of 60 million is estimated to be a meager 5 percent to 10 percent.
Unlike Schmidt’s controversial visit to Pyongyang, which Google described as a “personal” trip, the visit to Myanmar falls within his mandate as executive chairman, which involves government outreach, thought leadership and building partnerships and business relationships, the company said.
“Eric [Schmidt] is visiting several countries in Asia to connect with local partners and Googlers who are working to improve the lives of many millions of people across the region by helping them get online and access the world’s information for the first time in the next few years,” Google said in a statement.
His trip also includes India.
In November last year, Schmidt visited Taipei, Seoul and Beijing.
The Myanmar trip will be Schmidt’s second visit this year to a country off the beaten track.
In January he went to North Korea, saying it was a personal trip to talk about a free and open Internet.
Schmidt is due to give a speech at the Myanmar Information and Communication Technology Park in Yangon on Friday, before making his way to the capital, Naypyitaw, to meet senior government officials, said Myanmar Computer Society secretary-general Zaw Min-oo.
“There will be an audience of about 400, comprising entrepreneurs, executive committee members of the computer association and young leaders,” Zaw Min-oo said, referring to the speech.
Myanmar’s planned modernization of telecoms infrastructure and expected boom in mobile phone usage will pave the way for the entry of companies such as Google, which could profit through sales of smartphones.
The delegation, led by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and including Cisco Systems Inc, Google, Hewlett-Packard Co, Intel Corp and Microsoft Corp, visited Myanmar to look into projects to boost access to the Internet, strengthen transparent government and expand digital literacy, according to a USAID statement.
Many firms in Myanmar are still largely controlled by businesspeople subject to sanctions, but Western companies are starting to move in after the implementation of a new foreign investment law.