Myanmar Junta Implementing China’s BRI Projects by Stealth
Amid political upheaval, the COVID-19 crisis and ongoing fighting between the military and civilian resistance fighters and ethnic armed groups, the junta is quietly attempting to pave the way for the implementation in Myanmar of China's strategic infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Beijing has pushed repeatedly for the speeding up of the ambitious projects outlined by China's President Xi Jinping and first proposed to the National League for Democracy (NLD) government ousted by the junta's Feb. 1 coup.
However, none of the projects actually moved forward to the implementation stage under NLD rule, as they were still being carefully reviewed due to concerns about commercial viability and their social and environmental impact.
Just five months after the military grabbed power, the coup leaders' moves reveal that they have put China-backed projects at the top of their economic agenda, despite the fact that deep-seated resentment towards China is increasing across Myanmar.
One month after the coup, the military regime reorganized the leading committees charged with implementing the BRI projects. Those committees play a crucial role in engaging with Beijing, including determining key projects, signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and conducting government to government negotiations.
Moreover, the junta also reorganized the implementation and working committees of the cross-border economic cooperation zones (CBECZ) in Kachin and Shan States, which are key projects under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which is itself a part of the BRI. During his trip to Myanmar last year, President Xi Jinping branded the CBECZ as a crucial pillar needed to get the CMEC off the ground.
In April, the Myanmar-China joint committee on economic, trade and technology cooperation was restructured by the junta to oversee and enhance cooperation between Beijing and Naypyitaw.
In March, the regime made another significant move, approving the US$2.5 billion BRI project Mee Lin Gyaing, a liquefied natural gas power project in Ayeyarwady region. The project is the first major foreign investment approved by the regime.
In May, the coup leaders reorganized the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (KPSEZ) management committee, which is charged with implementing a special economic zone and deep-sea port project in western Rakhine State, a key strategic component of the BRI. The project is designed to provide China with direct access to the Indian Ocean, allowing its oil imports to bypass the Strait of Malacca, as well as boosting development in China's landlocked Yunnan Province, which borders Myanmar.
Vice-Senior General Soe Win, the vice chairman of the State Administration Council (SAC), as the regime describes itself, said during the first meeting of the Myanmar Special Economic Zone committee that the successful implementation of the KPSEZ could enhance China-Myanmar cooperation, and so help Rakhine State to develop and create jobs.
Right after the coup leaders praised the project, a Chinese state-owned firm also announced that it has completed the main components [first phase] of a power project in KPSEZ. The US$180 million plant is recognized as an important part of the CMEC and is a joint venture between Power China and Myanmar's Supreme Group. The plant is expected to generate an estimated 1,005 million units of electricity annually for Rakhine State, including the KPSEZ.
Power China said that despite the challenges posed by the political crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, they are planning to complete the plant this year, saying that the project is crucial for the BRI in Myanmar.
In early June, the junta-appointed Minister for Commerce, Dr. Pwint San, said during a meeting with the KPSEZ management committee that the regime will provide all the necessary support to implement the KPSEZ successfully.
As part of the efforts to push forward the CBECZ in Kachin and Shan States, branded as a crucial pillar of the CMEC by President Xi Jinping last year, the regime-controlled investment commission gave the green light in late May to begin the construction of the Kanpiketi CBECZ project in a border town in Kachin State.
The US$22.4 million Kanpiketi Business Park will cover nearly 70 acres in northern Kachin State's Special Region 1, which is controlled by the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) militia, which is allied with the Myanmar military. First proposed in 2018, the zone will link with the Huaqiao CBECZ controlled by the Baoshan local government across the border in Yunnan.
The business park is being presented as a model CBECZ under the CMEC and enterprises who move there will enjoy a five year tax break and other benefits.
The ousted NLD government signed an MoU to develop a business park with the Myanmar Heng Ya Investment Development Company Ltd, a joint venture between Myanmar's Kampaiti Development Company Ltd, which is run by the sons of the NDA-K militia founder Zahkung Ting Ying, and China's Yunnan Tengying Trading Company Ltd. However, the project's approval was delayed due to public concerns on transparency and the controversial background of the project backers.
A few days before the project received the go-ahead from the regime investment commission, the deputy director-general of the Yunnan government foreign affairs office, Hao Kun, met with Myanmar's Consul in Kunming, U Tun Aung Kyaw, in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. A statement from Chinese media said that both sides discussed ways to promote bilateral relations, including the implementation of the CBECZ.
The junta has also stepped up work on a plan to construct another CBECZ in Chinshwehaw, in Shan State's Laukkai Township, which is part of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone. That CBECZ will be linked to a Chinese CBECZ across the border in Lincang, Yunnan Province. Chinshwehaw is seen as an important trade gateway for China, as it provides the shortest route from Kunming to the Kyaukphyu Port on the Bay of Bengal.
China has proposed building a massive industrial zone in Chinshwehaw. Under a previous plan, it has proposed opening a new border crossing to serve as the main gate for the CBECZ at Chinshwehaw (Kunlong)-Lincang (Mengding), as well as reopening the 125 border zone which was destroyed in 2017 during attacks by ethnic armed group the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army.
In May, officials from the SAC and the Kokang Administration Department decided to re-establish the 125 border zone. An official from the Kokang Administration Department told The Irrawaddy that the Ministry of Defense and Home Affairs under the NLD government repeatedly rejected reviving the 125 border zone for security reasons.
(To be continued)
Link : https://www.irrawaddy.com/opinion/analysis/myanmar-junta-implementing-chinas-bri-projects-by-stealth.html