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Myanmar's changing ties with China

Myanmar eyes China’s trade plan for much-needed infrastructure, as crisis in Rakhine goes on

Construction minister rejects claims of a crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in state, which has been a hub for Chinese investment

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 11:47am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 11:26pm

Myanmar said it is looking at ways to complement schemes like China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” to help it make much-needed progress on its infrastructure.

Minister for Construction U Win Khaing told the Asean and Asia Forum in Singapore on Thursday that his country needed to improve its infrastructure quickly to cope with the mass internal migration to its cities.

The government had been in contact with various potential partners, including China and Japan, promoting Myanmar as a hub to connect Southeast Asia and South Asia, he said.

“We are talking about how to complement such initiatives as [the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’] because [its] objectives can very well complement our national objectives,” he said.

The economic stakes for China in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine

The belt and road blueprint is China’s ambitious push to revive trade along ancient routes through Asia to Africa and Europe. It includes plans for a corridor linking China’s landlocked western provinces to the Indian Ocean.

Beijing has pledged massive investment in its neighbour, including commitments to build roads, railways, ports, and oil pipelines under the trade plan.

City of Oxford to strip Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi of award over treatment of Rohingya

About US$10 billion in Chinese investment has been earmarked for a deep seaport, a trading estate and a special economic zone in Kyaukphyu in Rakhine, as well as infrastructure projects in the remote western state where violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists has erupted into crisis.

Amid claims of a government crackdown on the Rohingya minority and ethnic cleansing, over half a million Rohingya people have fled to Bangladesh since the end of August, according to the United Nations.

U Win Khaing rejected claims of a military crackdown, saying government forces were combating terrorism.

He also said Myanmar was planning to amend its legislation to open up the country to foreign and private investment because the government alone could not provide urgently needed services.

Myanmar’s electricity supply was well behind its demand and the country had harnessed less than eight per cent of its hydropower potential, he said.

U Win Khaing said he welcomed foreign investors to help fill the gap either through additional power generation or transmission from neighbours. Solar and wind power plants were also an option.

“I’m very clear to investors that the energy option for Myanmar is open,” he said.

Earlier this year, work on the Chinese-financed US$3.6 billion Myitsone Dam was suspended amid protests over environmental concerns. It would have become the first dam to cross the Irrawaddy River, the mythic cradle of the Myanmese civilisation.