Myanmar says it is eager to begin work on a Chinese-backed port and industrial park project in the Rakhine State town of Kyaukpyu with a decision is expected soon.
National security adviser Thaung Tun denied the country was in a “debt trap” with Beijing, calling it a “win-win” deal.
“We would like to see this project get off the ground,” Thaung Tun, also chairman of the Myanmar Investment Commission, adding that a decision was imminent.
It had been reported that Nay Pyi Taw was trying to lower the costs of the western Rakhine project that is intended to link landlocked southwest China with the Indian Ocean. The port hosts a terminus of oil and gas pipelines, reducing Chinese dependence on the strategically vulnerable Strait of Malacca.
China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, which is due to extend to more than 65 countries, has been accused of saddling countries with debts they cannot repay.
Thaung Tun said: “What China is doing is prosper neighbour policy and we are all for it.
“We already know what happened to other places, and we will make sure it [Kyaukpyu] is a workable project.
“There are people who said: be careful, you will get into a debt trap. In this world, people can have their own opinions, but we will make sure what happens to Kyaukpyu, it will be a win-win situation for Myanmar and China.”
Citic, a Chinese state-owned investment corporation, is set to up to 70 per cent of the project, with 30 per cent split between the Burmese government and private interests.
The 2015 deal was for an 85-per-cent Chinese stake but the National League for Democracy government managed to increase its slice of the project.
Thaung Tun said the government that partially took power in April 2016 needed to bridge the “infrastructural gap”.
He also said the issue of the Myitsone dam in Kachin State near the Chinese border, which was suspended in 2011 by then president Thein Sein after environmental protests.
China has repeatedly called for the project to be revived but Thaung Tun said he thought China’s Yunnan province was now self-sufficient in electricity.
“Ten years ago, Myitsone dam was a very viable project,” Thaung Tun said. “But now that China doesn’t need the energy from Myitsone dam, I am not sure if China will still insist on this dam going forward.
“It should not be a thorn in the side of the two countries” and there would be “some negotiation” to resolve the issue.
China’s state-owned Global Times last month ran an editorial saying Beijing had not abandoned Myitsone, raising alarms in Myanmar.
Meanwhile, Thaung Tun said a railway connecting Ruili in Yunnan to Mandalay “would start quite soon” and “in all likelihood, it would be extended to Yangon and Kyaukpyu”.
The ethnic Rakhine population has little input in the scheme. Picture credit: Wikimedia