Myanmar Military Chief Affirms Support for China’s BRI Projects

By Nan Lwin 17 July 2020

YANGON—Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has assured China that the armed forces will continue to guarantee the implementation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the country, saying he believes it will support the peace process and national development.

During a meeting with Chinese Ambassador Chen Hai on Thursday, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) supports the establishment of the BRI, China’s ambitious grand infrastructure plan, and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) one of its local components, according to a press release from the Chinese Embassy.

In 2018, Myanmar agreed with China to establish the CMEC, which will stretch for 1,700 km, starting in China’s Yunnan Province and going through Myanmar’s major economic cities—Mandalay in central Myanmar and the commercial capital of Yangon—before reaching the Bay of Bengal coast at the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Rakhine State.

Under the CMEC, Myanmar has also signed a framework agreement for the Kyaukphyu deep seaport, a planned hub for Chinese trade that would give direct access to the Indian Ocean and allow China’s oil imports to bypass the Strait of Malacca, between peninsular Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The CMEC also serves Beijing’s goal of developing landlocked Yunnan.

China is promoting the CMEC as a “Road for Peace and Road for Development” that would seek to strike a balance between revamping Myanmar’s economic engines and targeting poverty reduction. It says the resulting economic development would bring peace and stability along the corridor, particularly to Myanmar’s conflict-torn states.

Ambassador Hai said China is willing to push ahead with implementation of the three pillars of the project, the Kyaukphyu deep seaport, cross-border economic cooperation zones, and the New Yangon City project, and to promote Myanmar’s electricity, transportation and agriculture sectors.

These projects were branded the three pillars of the CMEC during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Myanmar early this year. Xi also called for both sides to deepen “result-oriented Belt and Road cooperation” and move from “the conceptual stage to concrete planning and implementation”.

In a statement, the commander-in-chief said the two sides exchanged views on practical cooperation to ensure peace and stability in northern Myanmar, information and technology exchange, drug eradication, and cooperation in the media sector and between the two countries’ armed forces.

Hai said China would continue to support Myanmar’s peace process and its efforts to hold the Fourth Session of the 21st-Century Panglong Peace Conference. He also assured Myanmar that China would join with it to oppose foreign interference.

The upcoming 21st-Century Panglong Peace Conference is scheduled to be held in August to discuss the implementation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, and further peace talks and discussions on the basic principles for forming a federal union are planned after November’s election.

Since 2017, China has been acting as an official peace broker between the military and the Northern Alliance, which comprises the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). The group is actively fighting government troops in northern Shan State, where many BRI backbone projects are planned, including the Muse-Mandalay Railway—the initial phase of the envisioned China-Myanmar Railway—and cross-border cooperation zones in Muse and Chinshwehaw.

Moreover, China has officially played a mediation role between Myanmar and Bangladesh since 2017. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape military operations the UN has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The Myanmar military denies the allegations, insisting the crackdown was a response to coordinated attacks on security posts in Rakhine State by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

Despite allegations that the treatment of the Rohingya and the military’s operations amount to genocide and war crimes, Beijing has continued to offer strong support to Myanmar. Last year in April, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing praised China as an “eternal friend” during a visit to Beijing and thanked it for countering international pressure on Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis.

In 2018, China voted against the UN Human Rights Council’s move to establish a body to investigate claims of genocide in Rakhine. China said at the time that the Rohingya issue should not be “complicated,” “expanded” or “internationalized,” saying instead that it is an issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

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