US energy giant Chevron said on Friday it would exit its Myanmar operations immediately after French rival TotalEnergies signalled support for targeted sanctions on the Southeast Asian country’s natural gas revenues to block revenue to the ruling military junta.
Chevron said it is working on a planned orderly transition to exit from its Yadana gas project, while Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the French company acknowledged it would support sanctions to stop gas payments to Myanmar military-controlled entities.
The withdrawal of Chevron and TotalEnergies – formerly known as Total – is a significant PR blow for the junta.
The French energy giant has operated in the Yadana gas project in Myanmar since 1992, and has paid many millions in revenue to the junta-controlled Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) over the past three decades.
“The fact that both TotalEnergies and human rights groups now support sanctions on Myanmar’s gas revenues leaves the US and European Union without any excuses to delay action,” John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at HRW, said.
“These governments should immediately impose measures vitally needed to target funds that pay for the junta’s abusive rule.”
Legal Framework Needed
TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanné told HRW the company had spoken with French and US authorities concerning the implementation of targeted sanctions on gas revenue flows.
He said TotalEnergies “will not only comply with any sanction decision from the European or American authorities but also supports the implementation of such targeted sanctions”.
TotalEnergies also formally asked the French foreign ministry to put in place sanctions that would create “a legal framework to respond to calls requesting us to stop the financial flows” to MOGE.
Since overthrowing the democratically elected government in February 2021, Myanmar’s military has carried out increasingly brutal attacks and crackdowns across the country on anti-junta protesters, activists, journalists, and its political opponents.
Since the coup, the US, Canada, UK and EU member states have imposed targeted economic sanctions on junta leaders and several conglomerates and companies owned or controlled by the Myanmar military.
HRW said France and the US have been reluctant to impose sanctions on gas payments unilaterally.
Focus now on Thai energy giant PTT
However, the phased withdrawal of the French and US energy giants is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the large sums of money the pipeline funnels to the military regime.
That’s because the third foreign partner in the project, Thailand’s state oil and gas conglomerate PTT, is unlikely to join a boycott on its operations given that gas from the pipeline helps keep the lights in both Yangon and Bangkok.
Thailand’s leaders have close ties with the Myanmar military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, while PTT also controls the taps in terms of funds generated by the pipeline.
Human Rights Watch wants the Thai oil conglomerate to “end its lifeline to the junta by immediately suspending all financial payments to the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise” and diverting the money to an account that can be held for the country’s next democratically elected government, spokesman Phil Robertson said in a statement to AF late on Friday.
“By ending their involvement in Myanmar, Total and Chevron have signaled the importance of ending complicity with the military’s ever-expanding atrocities,” he said.
“Placing payments into an escrow account that could only be paid to a new, democratically elected government in Myanmar would put PTT on the right side of the growing conflict in the country, and put pressure on the military junta to end its violent suppression campaign and come to the political bargaining table.”
- George Russell and Jim Pollard