Global Economy

Xi plans Myanmar trip this week to expedite BRI projects facing slowdown

Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to visit Myanmar, a key neighbour of India this week, as Beijing seeks to ramp up support for BRI that will open connectivity in Bay of Bengal. The BRI projects in Myanmar has not received enough local support contrary to Chinese expectations.

This will first visit by a Chinese President to Myanmar in nearly two decades. India will keep a close watch on the visit.

According to Myanmar government sources, Xi is expected to visit Naypyitaw, January 17-18. During his trip, the two sides are expected to sign several agreements covering the construction of the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and border economic cooperation zones, road upgrade projects, promotion of trade relations, and social and economic development assistance, according to Myanmar government sources.

Minister for Commerce U Than Myint told the reporters that Xi will visit Myanmar soon, saying that during his trip an agreement would be signed between the two countries in which China would ease restrictions on imports of products from Myanmar.

It will be Xi’s second visit to Myanmar. He visited the country in 2009 as vice president. During that trip, China and Myanmar signed 16 memorandums of understanding (MOUs) on technical cooperation, the implementation of hydropower projects, the China-Myanmar Oil and Gas twin pipeline project, and the Kyaukphyu SEZ. However, the Kyaukphyu project has been delayed due to domestic opposition.

Daw Khin Khin Kyaw Kyee, head of the China desk at the Institute of Strategy and Policy (ISP)-Myanmar, told leading Myanmar daily The Irrawaddy that during the trip she expects the Chinese president will push Myanmar to gear up for the implementation of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor projects (CMEC).

Myanmar joined the BRI in 2018 by signing a 15-point MOU establishing the CMEC. Utilizing the interconnected transportation infrastructure of China and Myanmar, the 1,700-kilometer CMEC will run from Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province through Shan State’s Muse to Mandalay in central Myanmar, and then branch out to Yangon and the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in western Rakhine State.

According to the Myanmar government, China has proposed 38 projects under the CMEC. However, Myanmar only approved nine projects at the second BRI forum in Beijing in April last year. So far, Myanmar has only made public three projects: the construction of three economic cooperation zones in Kachin and Shan states; the Kyaukphyu SEZ; and the Muse-Mandalay railway project.

“Planned projects like the Kyaukphyu SEZ, Muse-Mandalay Railway and Irrawaddy Economic Belt indicate that China is keeping alive its strategic vision for Myanmar, particularly [projects that provide] access to the Indian Ocean,” Khin Khin Kyaw Kyee told The Irrawaddy.

“Xi’s trip will fit into China’s vision to achieve a presence in the Indian Ocean. That is the reason they want Myanmar’s deep commitment to the BRI projects,” she said.

Ethics Affairs and China expert U Maung Maung Soe told The Irrawaddy, “China wants to show their relations with Myanmar are good. It [Xi’s trip] also shows they will forge even closer relations with the NLD government in the future.”

Xi is demonstrating that China will stand firmly with Myanmar, despite criticism of the latter from the international community, he added.

During his trip in December, Foreign Minister Wang told Aung San Suu Kyi that China is willing to work with Myanmar to promote the CMEC from the planning stage to construction of the landmark project.

CMEC backbone projects like the Kyaukphyu SEZ and Muse-Mandalay railway have attracted local criticism due to a lack of transparency on the part of the Myanmar government. Despite the criticism, during Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s April visit to Beijing to attend the forum, Myanmar signed three agreements: the Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement; the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor Cooperation Plan (2019-30) and the Agreement on Formulation of the Five-Year Development Program for Economic and Trade Cooperation.

“When it comes to China-backed projects, we need a strategic vision,” Khin Khin Kyaw Kyee said.

“China has a clear vision of what they want from Myanmar. The Myanmar government should have a clear vision of what we want from China, what advantages we expect from the projects and how we will implement them in such a way as to minimize the negative effects,” she said.


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