China’s Six Belt and Road Projects in Myanmar to Watch in 2019

YANGON—The Myanmar government recently agreed to begin work on key projects under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) agreement which is part of Chinese’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Experts, including voices from the World Bank, have pointed out that Myanmar’s growth will largely depend on major BRI infrastructure projects that get underway this year.

The 1,700-kilometer-long CMEC will start in China’s Yunnan Province, go through Myanmar’s major economic cities—Mandalay in central Myanmar, the commercial capital of Yangon—and reach the coast at Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Rakhine State. The proposal includes upgrades to three major roads through Mandalay and Muse on the Myanmar side of the border with China, and some other roads in Shan State.

An estimated $2 billion will be spent in the initial stages of the project which is expected to be made up of 24 projects in total.

Among the 24 proposed CMEC projects, Myanmar has agreed to speed up the process of nine major projects, which include the Kyaukphyu SEZ in the west, the New Yangon City Development in Yangon and the border economic cooperation zones in Kachin and Shan states.

Here, The Irrawaddy looks at six projects which are set to be implemented this year and which require careful monitoring—including the controversial Myitsone dam project, on which a final decision could be made this year.

Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Port

• Signed framework agreement in November 2018
• Offers China access to the Bay of Bengal
• Check point of pipeline delivering natural oil and gas to China’s Kunming in Yunnan Province
• Covers a total of 520 hectares-20 for the port, 100 for housing and 400 for an industrial park
• Phase 1 will involve the construction of two jetties with a total investment of not more than $1.3 billion
• Expected to provide 100,000 jobs for local people

 Raises concerns about debt trap, environmental and health problems and maritime security issues

Muse-Mandalay Railway Project
• Signed MoU with China in October 2018 to begin studying a proposed railway line
• Expected one-year study period
• A part of Beijing’s plan to build a parallel expressway and railway line from Ruili (across the border from Muse in China’s Yunnan Province) to Kyaukphyu
• Project will be 431 kilometers (268 miles) long and pass through armed conflict areas in Shan State
• Proposed electric trains will run at speeds of 160 kph
• Expects to construct at least seven freight stations and five passenger stations along the route
• Ground survey will be carried out from January to April got the Naung Cho (Nawmghkio)_Lashio section and Lashio-Muse section of the railway

 Could easily provoke more armed conflict along the route in Shan state

New Yangon Development Project
• A framework agreement has been signed between the New Yangon Development Company (NYDC) and the Hong Kong-listed China Communications Construction Company (CCCC)
• It is a part of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, also a part of BRI
• Estimated cost of infrastructure is $1.5 billion
• Envisioned as a complex of new towns, industrial parks and urban development projects

 Prompts questions on whether it is unnecessary project. Raises concerns about expenses and potential floods.

Three Border Economic Zones
• Plan to construct “economic cooperation zones” on the China-Myanmar border in Shan and Kachin states as part of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
• Myanmar in July approved three economic cooperation zones- Kanpiketi in Kachin State’s Special Region 1; Chinshwehaw, in Shan State’s Laukkai Township; and in Shan State’s Muse Township
• Expect to include trade centers and processing areas, small and medium-sized industrial facilities, a trade logistics center and a quality packing center
• Chinshwehaw economic cooperation zone expects to start construction in April

 Raises concerns about armed conflict, migrant population

Myitsone Hydropower Project
• Chinese Ambassador in Myanmar recently strongly pressed the necessity of restarting the Myitsone project
• Revealed Myitsone is necessary for BRI projects
• $3.6 billion project was suspended by then-president U Thein Sein in 2011 amid widespread public outcry
• Located at the confluence of Myanmar’s “lifeline’s” the Irrawaddy River
• Dam site has some of the healthiest biodiversity in the world
• The project is still in limbo, the government hasn’t’ officially revealed their plan

 Raises concerns about the destruction of the natural beauty of the Irrawaddy River and Disruption of water flow downstream
 It could potentially flood and area the size of Singapore, destroying livelihoods and displacing more the 10,000 people

Kyaukphyu-Kunming Railway
• A total estimated cost of $20 billion
• Stalled railway and road project linking Kyaukphyu in Rakhine State to Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province
• Entire rail line was to run 810 kilometers
• Then-President U Thein Sein suspended the project following strong local objections
• In 2014, the agreement expired and the railway project remains in limbo
• Studies on Muse-Mandalay railway project, a part of Kyaukphyu-Kunming Railway project began this month
• Kyaukphyu-Kunming railway could be next step after the Muse-Mandalay project

 Raises concerns about potential debt trap and armed conflict

Source: Irrawaddy

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