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China urges Myanmar to move forward with BRI projects including New Yangon City

A night view of Sule Pagoda, a stupa located in downtown Yangon, Myanmar. [Photo/Xinhua]. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

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MANDALAY, May 18, 2020, Myanmar Times. China is urging Myanmar to move forward with several agreements made during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the country in January, Myanmar Times reported.

During a meeting last week, Chinese ambassador to Myanmar Mr Chen Hai and U Set Aung, deputy minister of Planning and Finance, discussed how to ensure continuous development of the China-backed New Yangon City, Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone.

These are the three main projects under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which is a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). A memorandum of understanding for the 1700-kilometer CMEC, which will link Kunming in Yunnan province to Mandalay, Yangon and finally Kyaukphyu SEZ in Rakhine, was signed in 2018.

Mr Chen said pushing ahead with the projects, guided by Myanmar’s COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan, is important for the economy and to raise the living standards of the people from both countries.

U Ye Htut, a former MP and China-Myanmar policy analyst, said even though Myanmar is much poorer than China, the outbreak of COVID-19 has not been as severe. As such, “the country should focus on resuming business and restoring the economy,” he said.

Once Chinese investors return, jobs will be made available for local workers, he said. “China is urging Myanmar to implement the projects because Myanmar has been delaying them. Both countries will be worse off if the projects are delayed. If one side fails to continue, it is the people who will suffer the economic consequences in the end,” U Ye Htut said.

During Mr Xi’s visit, the Chinese president and Myanmar signed a concession agreement and shareholders’ agreement for the Kyaukphyu SEZ. Agreements were also made to accelerate the development of the New Yangon City and Ruili-Muse Cross-Border Economic Cooperation Zone.

Currently, the two countries are still preparing to sign framework agreements for developing the border economic zone, which comprises three approved zones in Muse and Laukkai townships, Shan State and Kanpeiti township in Kachin State.

However, no progress has been made since Mr Xi’s visit, said U Khin Maung Lwin, assistant secretary of the Ministry of Commerce. “Discussions at the higher level were supposed to have commenced and a field study carried out at the border area but all this has been suspended due to COVID-19,” U Khin Maung Lwin said.

Construction of the New Yangon City project across the Yangon River has also been postponed. A framework agreement between Yangon government-owned New Yangon Development Company and China Communications Construction Co to build infrastructure including two bridges, roads, power and water plants and an industrial estate was signed last year.

The Kyaukphyu SEZ, which is expected to consist of the industrial zone and a deep sea port, is slated to be developed across 4300 acres of land led by China’s CITIC Consortium and a total of 42 private Myanmar companies under a local consortium. Myanmar will hold a 30pc stake in the SEZ, which will be developed in phases, while CITIC Consortium will invest 70pc.

The Myanmar Times understands that negotiations were being held in February to start implementation of the first phase at $1.3 billion. It is unclear how far those negotiations have progressed.

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