YANGON — The government approved sites for three “economic cooperation zones” in Kachin and Shan states along Myanmar’s border with China on Thursday as part of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, according to the chief minister of Kachin State.
U Khet Aung said the sites were approved at the first implementation meeting of the Economic Cooperation Zones Central Committee in Naypyitaw, and followed a recent trip to China by Commerce Minister U Than Myint.
He said the zones will be built in Kanpiketi town, in Kachin State’s Special Region 1, under the control of the New Democratic Army-Kachin militia; Chinshwehaw, in Shan State’s Laukkai Township, part of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone; and in Shan State’s Muse Township.
Chinshwehaw and Muse are already major trading hubs along Myanmar’s border with China’s Yunnan Province. Kanpiketi currently does regular trade with China as well.
“The [commerce] minister pushed us to start the projects soon. The zones will be established on both sides of the border. We already started clearing the site in Kanpiketi,” U Khet Aung told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
According to a Commerce Ministry spokesman, U Than Myint visited China last week and returned on Tuesday, but the ministry has not released any more official information about the trip. According to U Khet Aung, Chinese officials told the minister that they expected the zones to not only boost border trade but help bring “peace and stability” to the restive regions.
At Thursday’s committee meeting in Naypyitaw, U Than Myint also said that the zones would create local jobs, boost small and medium businesses and support the peace process by promoting stability, and that he urged relevant ministries to support the projects, according to a statement from the Ministry of Information.
The Commerce Ministry spokesman said officials from Kachin and Shan states and from Kokang also attended.
U Khet Aung said the Kanpiketi zone was expected to receive an initial investment of $5 million and be finished by the end of this year.
In 2017 China and Myanmar signed five memorandums of understanding (MoUs), including one between their respective commerce ministries, during State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Beijing to attend a forum on the Belt and Road Initiative.
Since then, the details have been hammered out by a Joint Committee on China-Myanmar Border Economic Zones. Myanmar’s team is headed by U Than Myint, with the chief ministers of Kachin and Shan states and the president of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone serving as deputies.
As part of the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing and Naypyitaw have also agreed to a 15-point MoU on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, the director of Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, U Min Zaw Oo, told The Irrawaddy last week.
The corridor will reach from Yunnan Province to Mandalay in central Myanmar, from where it will stretch south to Yangon and west to the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone in Rakhine State.
Under the MoU, the two governments have agreed to collaborate in many sectors including infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, finance, human resource development, telecommunications, research and science.
Launched in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy project . It aims to build and expand roads, rail lines and shipping lanes linking at least 70 countries from China to Europe through central Asia, the Middle East and Russia to boost trade and investment.
Many see Myanmar uniquely situated along the route as it sits between South and Southeast Asia and offers landlocked Yunnan Province its quickest path to the Indian Ocean.