Xi Hopeful on Belt and Road Projects in Myanmar During COVID-19
By Nan Lwin 21 May 2020
YANGON—Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed hope that Myanmar will speed up cooperation with China to implement its ambitious infrastructure projects in the country during a recent call with Myanmar President U Win Myint.
In the phone conversation on Wednesday, Xi said that he is expecting the two sides will cooperate closely and speed up the implementation of projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that were agreed to during his visit to Myanmar earlier this year.
During Xi’s visit to Myanmar, both sides agreed to speed up the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) backbone projects including the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in western Rakhine State, New Yangon City in Myanmar’s commercial capital and Cross-Border Economic Cooperation Zones in Shan and Kachin states.
He branded all three projects as crucial pillars of the CMEC that are needed to deepen “result-oriented BRI cooperation” and move from “the conceptual stage to concrete planning and implementation” of building the CMEC.
In January, the two sides inked a concession agreement and shareholders’ agreement for Kyaukphyu SEZ, a letter of intent on the development of Yangon City and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to accelerate negotiations around the Ruili-Muse Cross-Border Economic Cooperation Zone.
Among the backbone projects, the Kyaukphyu SEZ is crucial for China, as it is expected to boost development in China’s landlocked Yunnan Province and provide China with direct access to the Indian Ocean, allowing its oil imports to bypass the Strait of Malacca.
The two sides signed an agreement on CMEC in 2018 and the corridor is part of the BRI, Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy project. Unveiled in 2013, the international plan is also known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The project aims to build a network of roads, railroads and shipping lanes linking at least 70 countries from China to Europe, passing through Central Asia, the Middle East and Russia and fostering trade and investment.
The estimated 1,700-kilometer-long CMEC will connect Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, to Myanmar’s major economic checkpoints—first to Mandalay in central Myanmar and then east to Yangon and west to the Kyaukphyu SEZ.
Xi said that as both countries implement COVID-19 prevention and control measures, the two sides should advance exchanges and cooperation and push for positive progress on CMEC projects.
Though Myanmar is facing the possibility of a sever COVID-19 outbreak, China is pushing hard to implement CMEC projects in the country. In early May, Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai and Myanmar’s Deputy Minister for Planning, Finance and Industry U Set Aung met for “in-depth discussions” on the implementation of CMEC projects. The two discussed how to move forward on the development of China’s ambitious projects in Myanmar based on the Myanmar government’s COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP).
Myanmar’s CERP seeks to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic by implementing new measures and response plans. The measures include steps to expedite the solicitation of strategic infrastructure projects and to use fast-track procedures to approve and disclose large investments from reputable international firms that may be currently experiencing delays.
According to a statement from the Chinese Embassy, U Win Myint thanked China for providing support and assistance to the World Health Organization (WHO) and other countries, including Myanmar, in their battles against the pandemic.
U Win Myint said that Myanmar will continue to firmly uphold the One China policy and work with China closely to implement the outcomes of Xi’s most recent visit to Myanmar.
He said Myanmar is committed to deepening friendship and the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between Myanmar and China.
The Chinese government and Chinese companies have poured a massive amount of COVID-19-related medical supplies into Myanmar since late March. China also dispatched a team of experts to offer technical assistance and share China’s experiences fighting COVID-19 with Myanmar medical experts.
Both sides also discussed exchanging high-level visits in the post COVID-19 period to mark the 70th anniversary of China-Myanmar diplomatic relations.
Xi said that China will stand ready to work with Myanmar and other countries to continue to support the WHO as it plays a leading role in the global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also called for coordinated efforts along China’s border with Myanmar to safeguard peace, prevent and control the pandemic and resume work and economic productivity.
Since late March, China has strictly control border gates between Yunnan Province and Myanmar to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Myanmar farmers and traders have been hurt badly following China’s restrictions and controls on the border.
The Myanmar government has received criticisms from traders and farmers over the significant decline in border trade and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said the Myanmar Consulate in Kunming discussed the issue with Chinese officials on Wednesday. The Consulate reportedly raised the issue that Myanmar’s seafood and fruit industries have suffered losses due to the restrictions on the border. However, MOFA did not release the outcomes of the meeting.
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