Burma

Chinese Foreign Minister to Visit Naypyitaw Next Month

By Nan Lwin 28 December 2020

YANGON—Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi plans to visit Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar, in early January, a senior official from the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) told The Irrawaddy.

The senior official from MOFA, who asked for anonymity, confirmed that Myanmar and China have discussed the details of Wang’s trip, but the exact date has yet to be settled.

However, the senior official said that Wang’s visit was intended to show support for the upcoming second term of the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government while pushing it to speed up construction of projects delayed by the pandemic under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which is a part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

If the trip goes ahead, Wang would be the first foreign minister to visit Myanmar since the Nov. 8 election, which the NLD won in a landslide.

The Chinese Embassy had not replied to The Irrawaddy’s questions relating to Wang’s trip as of Monday afternoon.

The senior official said the issues facing Rakhine may also be included on the agenda for bilateral discussions.

Wang has played a central mediation role between Myanmar and Bangladesh in the Rohingya repatriation process since 2017, attending key meetings between the two countries.

He proposed the CMEC for the first time following a meeting with Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyitaw in November 2017.

Wang accompanied Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Naypyitaw in early January this year. During Xi’s visit, Myanmar signed with China nearly three dozen MOUs, agreements, exchange letters and protocols. He branded the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in western Rakhine State, the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone in Shan and Kachin states, and the New Yangon City project in Myanmar’s commercial capital as three pillars of the CMEC and called on both sides to deepen result-oriented BRI cooperation.

Since his trip to Myanmar early this year, China has repeatedly sought the Myanmar government’s cooperation on practical implementation of the projects. Even in his congratulatory statement on the NLD’s election victory, Xi pushed Myanmar to make joint efforts with China in various fields under the BRI.

However, none of the CMEC projects has actually reached the implementation stage. The government has said it will implement the projects after verifying that they are commercially viable and in line with country’s development plan.

A joint venture company for the Kyaukphyu SEZ, which China hopes will boost its presence in the Indian Ocean, was approved in August. However, implementation has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Myanmar also launched a “Swiss challenge” tendering process to develop the initial phase of the New Yangon City project. In November, the tender committee sent “request for proposal” (RFP) documents to nine companies—including firms based in India, Singapore, France and Taiwan—to compete against a Chinese company’s proposal.

Moreover, Myanmar and China recently held a meeting on the establishment of China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zones in Shan and Kachin states and finalized the location and size of the zones.

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