Feasibility Study on BRI Railway Link in Myanmar to Take 18 Months

YANGON—Myanmar and China have agreed to complete a feasibility study within one and a half years on the Mandalay-Kyaukphyu Railway, a major part of China’s planned strategic railway linking China’s rail network in Yunnan province’s Kunming with Myanmar’s Kyaukphyu port in western Rakhine State, Myanma Railways said.

On Jan. 10, Myanmar and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to begin the study for the Mandalay-Kyaukphyu Railway project, a part of the US$20-billion (26.5-trillion-kyat) China-Myanmar Railway project under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Myanma Railways on Wednesday said that along with the feasibility study (FS) for the Mandalay-Kyaukphyu Railway project, environmental and social impact assessments (EIA/SIA) and an assessment of the project’s impact on cultural heritage would be carried out at the same time.

It said the feasibility study (FS) needed to be finished within 18 months, adding that the MoU will expire in two years.

Beijing’s ambitious plans include building a parallel expressway and railway from Ruili via Muse to Kyaukphyu with a separate road running through northern Myanmar, the northeast states of India, and Bangladesh.

In 2019, Myanmar and China completed a study and EIA for the line from Muse to Mandalay, an initial part of the larger railway network. However, environmental experts and critics said the EIA process did not fully represent the affected local communities who are living along the railway route.

A previous agreement between Beijing and Naypyitaw on the China-Myanmar Railway, which would combine the two routes (Muse-Mandalay and Mandalay-Kyaukphyu), was suspended due to strong objections from locals, who cited concerns over sovereignty, the project’s debt burden, and unfair rules and regulations. It expired in 2014.

If the entire project is completed, it will play a crucial role in the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) under the BRI. It would allow China’s imports and exports to bypass the congested Strait of Malacca and contested South China Sea, and also boost development in China’s landlocked Yunnan Province.

A statement from the Chinese Embassy said Myanmar and China had held in-depth discussions on technology and funding methods for the railway project during the last year, and that both sides had decided to continue to carry out the feasibility study for the Mandalay-Kyaukphyu Railway.

Under an agreement signed in 2018, the 1,700-km CMEC will run from Kunming to Mandalay in central Myanmar, then east to Yangon and west to the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Rakhine State.

During Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s recent trip to Myanmar, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed hope that concerted efforts would be made to implement the CMEC, which it said would promote connectivity between its western, northern and eastern ends.

Chinese media also reported that China and Myanmar agreed to speed up construction of various projects, including the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ), the New Yangon City, and the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone (CBEZ)—which have been branded by Chinese President Xi Jinping as the three pillars of the CMEC.

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Source: the Irrrawaddy

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