China Vows to Deepen Economic Cooperation, Open Markets to Myanmar

By Nan Lwin 1 December 2020

YANGON—China has sought greater cooperation with the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government during its upcoming second term, including on the implementation of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, while promising to open its markets to Myanmar’s exports under China’s next five-year development plan.

Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai recently published an op-ed in Myanmar state-owned media under the headline “New Developments in China and a New Era of China-Myanmar Relations”. In the article, he touted Myanmar’s successful general election, saying China will implement its next economic and social development plan starting next year, just as Myanmar is about to form a new government for a five-year term.

Chen said China is ready to “carry out the agreements reached during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Myanmar, strengthen synergy between China’s 14th Five-Year Plan and Myanmar’s development strategy, and deepen pragmatic cooperation in all areas.”

During Xi’s visit in January, China and Myanmar agreed to move forward with the backbone projects under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which is a part of the BRI, Xi’s grand infrastructure plan for the region.

Despite the fact that none of the CMEC projects has actually gotten off the ground so far, the ambassador said the major projects of the CMEC are now well under way.

He said China is willing to work with Myanmar to seize development opportunities, overcome difficulties and challenges, and promote greater development of bilateral relations in the new era.

In late October, China unveiled its 14th five-year plan for the country’s economic development from 2012 to 2025, and a blueprint for a long-term strategy through 2035. The plans include economic development strategies that would see China open up its market to the region with the aim of lifting China’s per capita GDP to be on par with moderately developed countries by expanding its middle-income population.

Chen said that to achieve the goals of the five-year plan, China has created a new development model with the domestic market as the mainstay and domestic and international markets reinforcing each other, saying that China’s imports are expected to be worth more than US$22 trillion (about 29,000 trillion kyats) over the next 10 years.

“China’s door will only open wider, which will offer even more opportunities for China-Myanmar cooperation,” Chen said.

He assured Myanmar that “China will further open its market to Myanmar, share its reform and development dividends with Myanmar, and provide new momentum for Myanmar’s exports to China, under [the] new development plan.”

Chen said Myanmar and China have strong complementary economic traits that create tremendous potential for cooperation, pointing out that agriculture is Myanmar’s pillar industry.

The ambassador said China has a population of 1.4 billion people with more than 400 million in the middle-income group, which provides a huge consumer market for agricultural product exports from Myanmar such as rice, soybeans, fruit and coffee.

As part of the NLD’s eight-point economic agenda announced ahead of the 2020 election, it plans to improve the country’s economy through modern agriculture and to expand markets to other countries instead of depending on a single market.

While China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner, Myanmar exporters including farmers and related businesses have suffered losses on and off for a long time due to unstable and unfair policies on border trade with China’s Yunnan Province. Myanmar’s exports to China have dropped significantly since March due to the latter’s COVID-19 restrictions. Only a few trucks are allowed to transport goods to China per day under driver exchange procedures. Recently, the two sides agreed to create a green lane allowing around 100 trucks from Myanmar to pass through the border.

Sai Thein Win, a trader from Muse, told The Irrawaddy that despite China’s claim that there had been developments in the border trade policy, Myanmar exporters had been hurt by the frequent policy changes in China. He said the Myanmar government needed to focus on tackling that issue.

“We need a stable policy and system including annual export quotas to China,” Sai Thein Win said.

U Min Thein, vice chairman of the Muse Rice Wholesale Center, told The Irrawaddy that China put heavy restrictions on imports from Myanmar including corn and sugar. Myanmar does not have a lot of restrictions on imports of Chinese goods, however.

“The Myanmar government has been negotiating with China to improve the unfair trade environment. We hope to improve the situation on the ground,” he said.

In the nearly 2,000-word article, Chen also said that “China is ready to work with Myanmar to support each other on issues involving our core interests and major concerns.”

He said that “Based on Myanmar’s interests, we will continue to play a constructive role in promoting the peace and national reconciliation of Myanmar.”

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