China resets ties with Myanmar with USD eight billion deals

Seeking to reset ties with Myanmar, China today signed USD eight billion trade deals with its southern neighbour after relations went through a turbulent period following the country’s gradual transition to democracy from years of Beijing-backed military rule.

The two countries signed several trade agreements worth about USD 7.8 billion after talks between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Myanmar President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital yesterday.

Li was in Myanmar to attend the East Asia Summit.

The new agreements included building of power plants fuelled by natural gas and covered areas like agriculture, telecommunications and finance, official media reported.

During his visit Li tried to reset China’s troubled relations with Myanmar, which were close during the hey days of military junta but showed signs of strains as Myanmar opened up, especially after the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader from years of house arrest.

China watched with concern as Myanmar warmed up towards India and the west, especially after Thein Sein government suspended construction of the multi-billion dollars Myitstone Dam being built by China following public protests.

“After some frustrations involving Chinese investment in the country’s infrastructure over the past few years, Myanmar’s government is seeking to reassure Beijing that it is welcome, and Beijing has responded positively,” state-run China Daily said.

Besides the trade deals, the two countries also agreed to establish an electricity cooperation committee as a working-level liaison channel for the energy sector.

Zhai Jun, professor of Southeast Asia studies at Peking University, said the two governments have fundamentally eased previous misunderstandings, and “have tweaked, adapted and updated policies toward each other”.

Under the deals signed yesterday, China will offer USD 300 million in small scale loans to the agriculture sector and set up an agriculture cooperation committee.

It will also set up three hospitals in Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw and Mandalay to boost local livelihoods.

Leading Chinese enterprises have invested heavily in the energy sector. A 2,520 km gas pipeline connecting Kyaukpyu in south Myanmar and China’s Yunnan province is now in full operation, while an oil pipeline taking a similar route is also close to completion.

The interaction between Beijing and Naypyidaw is improving, as both have shown strong support for initiatives led by the other, such as Myanmar’s endorsement of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Zhai said.

Source: Business Standard

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