YANGON—Chinese President Xi Jinping published an article Thursday in Myanmar’s state-owned newspapers stressing that Myanmar and China need to deepen “result-oriented Belt and Road cooperation” and move from “the conceptual stage to concrete planning and implementation” of Beijing’s infrastructure projects across Myanmar.
One day before Xi’s visit to Myanmar, the article appeared with his byline under the title “Writing a New Chapter in Our Millennia-Old Pauk-Phaw Friendship.” The term “pauk-phaw” was coined in the 1950s to describe the supposedly friendly and close relationship between China and Myanmar.
In the article, he said practical cooperation from both sides was important for implementing the development projects that make up the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC).
“Efforts need to be made to promote the three pillars of the CMEC, namely the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone and the New Yangon City,” Xi wrote.
“We also need to deepen practical and mutually beneficial cooperation in such areas as connectivity, electricity, energy, transportation, agriculture, finance and livelihood to deliver more benefits to both peoples,” the Chinese president wrote.
In his nearly 1,300-word story, Xi said he looks forward to renewing China’s “pauk-phaw” ties with Myanmar and discussing future cooperation during the upcoming visit.
Myanmar became an official member of Xi’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative after signing a 15-point memorandum of understanding (MoU) in September 2018. The estimated 1,700-kilometer-long CMEC will connect Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan Province, to Myanmar’s major economic hubs—Mandalay and Yangon—and to the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Unveiled in 2013, the BRI is Xi’s signature foreign policy project. 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, to foster trade and investment.
Under the CMEC, Myanmar has agreed to implement nine projects including the Kyaukphyu SEZ—a key strategic component that provides China with direct access to the Indian Ocean—as well as three border economic cooperation zones in Kachin and Shan states. In November 2018, Myanmar renegotiated the share ratio agreement and signed a framework agreement for the Kyaukphyu SEZ.
The Myanmar government agreed to build the border economic cooperation zones in 2017 when State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited Beijing to attend a forum on the BRI. The zones are located in Chinshwehaw, in Shan State’s Laukkai Township, which is part of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone, as well as Muse, also in Shan State, and Kanpiketi, in Kachin State’s Special Region 1, which is currently under the control of the New Democratic Army-Kachin militia, a border guard force allied with the Myanmar military.
Chinshwehaw and Muse are already major trading hubs along Myanmar’s border with China’s Yunnan Province. Kanpiketi currently does regular trade with China as well. The total cost of construction for the zones has not been calculated yet.
The Myanmar government has also signed a framework agreement for the New Yangon City, which will include a new town, industrial park and urban development, with the New Yangon Development Company (NYDC) and the Hong Kong-listed China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). The proposal for the project has been submitted to the Union Economic Committee, but the government has yet to officially announce whether the project will be given a green light.
“With Myanmar as an important partner country of BRI, our two sides have capitalized on the convergence of our development strategies,” Xi wrote Thursday.
Myanmar occupies a unique geographical position in the BRI, lying at the junction of South and Southeast Asia, and between the Indian Ocean and southwestern China’s landlocked Yunnan Province.
“We have signed cooperation documents on building the [CMEC] and established a joint CMEC committee to oversee steady progress,” the Chinese president wrote.
In April 2019, Myanmar and China signed an MoU for CMEC cooperation for 2019 through 2030 at the second BRI forum in Beijing.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations between the two countries. Myanmar was the first non-communist country to recognize the communist People’s Republic of China after its foundation in 1949.
Both sides have already made several homages in art and films to celebrate the anniversary. According to the Chinese president, Myanmar and China have designated 2020 as the China-Myanmar Year of Culture and Tourism.
“We need to bring new impetus to our mutually beneficial cooperation by deepening trade and economic exchanges,” Xi wrote.
Meanwhile, according to Myanmar’s government investment agency, China is the country’s second-largest foreign investor and its largest trading partner.
The Chinese president’s article did not discuss the fact that China has taken on a central role in Myanmar’s peace process, especially with some of the ethnic armed groups active along its border. The Chinese president wrote that “China supports Myanmar in advancing the peace and reconciliation process through political dialogue,” but did not elaborate. “The two sides may work together to ensure peace and stability along our border,” he wrote.
In 2013, China played a role in the first peace talks held between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Myanmar government representatives, held in Ruili, a town on the Chinese side of the border.
Since 2017, China has acted as an official peace broker between the military and members of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee, an organization that includes the KIA, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).
“China supports the efforts of the Myanmar government to promote peace and reconciliation, and supports Myanmar in safeguarding its legitimate rights and interests and national dignity in the international arena,” he wrote. “Myanmar, for its part, has given China staunch support on issues involving China’s core interests and major concerns.”
Amid allegations that the treatment of the Rohingya and the Myanmar military’s operations in western Rakhine State amount to genocide and war crimes, Beijing has continued to offer strong support to Myanmar. In 2018, China voted against the UN Human Rights Council’s move to establish a body to investigate claims of genocide in Rakhine.
Xi will arrive on Friday in Naypyitaw to seek commitments from Myanmar’s leaders for BRI projects in Myanmar. During the visit, the two countries plan to sign a dozen agreements including issues such as the implementation of the Kyaukphyu SEZ, border cooperation zones, trade, road upgrade projects, trade relations and social and economic development assistance.
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