China Opens New Shipping Route to Myanmar From South China Sea

By The Irrawaddy 2 November 2022

In the latest sign of its growing ties with Myanmar’s military regime, China has opened a direct shipping route linking its international port in the South China Sea to Myanmar’s business hub, Yangon.

Named after the Beibu Gulf Port complex in Guangxi Province, the new Beibu Gulf Port-Myanmar shipping route was opened last Friday, the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar announced on its Facebook page.

The embassy said the new shipping route would add to those in the RCEP region, referring to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free-trade agreement grouping Asia-Pacific countries.

Signed in November 2020, the RCEP is the first free-trade agreement between the largest economies in Asia including China, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.

The new route to Myanmar was jointly launched by Beibu Gulf Port Group and SITC Container Lines (Shanghai). The embassy said four cargo ships will travel the route weekly.

The ships will call at ports in other coastal cities in China, Malaysia and Indonesia before arriving in Yangon.

Cargo will reach Yangon 12 days after departure from Qinzhou Port (one of Beibu Gulf’s three ports) in Guangxi. SITC said the new route will greatly reduce enterprises’ logistics and storage costs.

Beibu Gulf Port and Yangon Port of Myanmar signed an agreement in September 2019 to establish a sister port relationship, providing favorable conditions for Myanmar to strengthen cooperation with ports in the pan-Beibu Gulf region, China Daily reported in 2020.

The inauguration of the shipping route follows last month’s opening of a Chinese-backed power plant that forms an important part of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) scheme in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, and further signals that Beijing is moving forward with its projects in post-coup, conflict-torn Myanmar.

China is a major investor in Myanmar, and has placed importance on projects that will give it access to the Indian Ocean. A crucial part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, the estimated 1,700-km-long CMEC will connect Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in southwest China, with Myanmar’s major economic hubs—linking first with Mandalay in central Myanmar, then forking east to Yangon and west to the Kyaukphyu SEZ in Rakhine State.

Unlike other countries that condemned the Myanmar military’s 2021 coup, China referred to it as merely “a cabinet reshuffle.” Along with Russia, it has backed the regime at the UN, leaving the Security Council unable to take action against the junta, which has killed more than 2,400 people so far.

During a visit to China in April this year, the regime’s foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, received a warm welcome from his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. Beijing said it would help safeguard Myanmar’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity “no matter how the situation changes”.