By Nan Lwin 18 November 2020
YANGON—Chinese President Xi Jinping said he is ready to make joint efforts with Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to boost practical cooperation on his ambitious grand infrastructure scheme, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in the country, in a congratulatory letter to the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) on its landslide victory in the Nov. 8 election.
Since his trip to Myanmar early this year, Xi has repeatedly called on the Myanmar government to cooperate on practical implementation of projects under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which is part of the BRI. He branded the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in western Rakhine State, the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone in Shan and Kachin states, and the New Yangon City project in Myanmar’s commercial capital as three pillars of the CMEC and called on both sides to deepen result-oriented BRI cooperation.
Despite several efforts by China to begin implementation of the backbone projects, none of the CMEC projects has actually gotten off the ground so far under the current NLD administration. The government said it has been carefully reviewing them to ensure they are commercially viable and in line with country’s development plan.
During Xi’s trip to Naypyitaw, the two sides signed a concession agreement and a shareholders’ agreement for the Kyaukphyu SEZ deep seaport project, which will boost China’s presence in the Indian Ocean. The development of the SEZ is part of Beijing’s wider plan to expand its footprint in South Asia, which has seen it invest heavily in Indian Ocean ports through the BRI.
In the congratulatory statement, Xi, in his capacity as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), said he would make joint efforts with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in pushing various fields under the BRI.
Under the CMEC agreement, the governments agree to collaborate on many sectors including basic infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, transport, finance, human resources development, telecommunications, and research and technology.
Xi said he believed that under Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership, the NLD would certainly go on to make even greater achievements in the lofty cause of realizing the country’s prosperity.
The NLD grabbed about 83 percent of seats nationwide in the lower and upper houses of the Union Parliament, and the state and regional parliaments, as well as ethnic affairs minister posts. The party won more than enough seats to form Myanmar’s next government.
Xi said he would also make joint efforts with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to boost relations between the two parties and the two countries, and deepen exchanges and mutual learning between the two parties.
He stressed that the close and friendly exchanges between the CCP and the NLD have played an important role in the healthy and stable growth in relations between the two countries.
Myanmar occupies a unique geographical position in the BRI, lying at the junction of South and Southeast Asia, and between the Indian Ocean and southwestern China’s Yunnan province. Myanmar became an official BRI partner in September 2018, and the estimated 1,700-km CMEC is due to connect Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, to Mandalay, Yangon and the Kyaukphyu SEZ in Rakhine State.
The BRI is Xi’s signature foreign policy project. Unveiled in 2013, it is also known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. The project aims to build a network of roads, railroads and shipping lanes linking at least 70 countries from China to Europe passing through Central Asia, the Middle East and Russia, fostering trade and investment.
In August, the Myanmar government approved the registration of a joint venture between a Chinese consortium, CITIC Myanmar Port Investment Limited, and the Myanmar government-backed Kyauk Phyu Special Economic Zone Management Committee to develop the SEZ. However, the process has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and has not reached the implementation stage.
Moreover, the government has hired German consulting firm Roland Berger to oversee a “Swiss challenge” tendering process to develop the initial phase of the New Yangon City project. According to the tender committee, it has received a total of 16 proposals from nine countries including Japan, Singapore, Italy, Spain and France, to compete against a Chinese company’s proposal for the New City project.