Myanmar, China ink deals to accelerate Belt and Road as Xi courts an
isolated Suu Kyi
Send a link to a friend
[January 18, 2020]
By Thu Thu Aung and Poppy McPherson
NAYPYITAW (Reuters) - China and Myanmar
inked dozens of deals on Saturday to speed up infrastructure projects in
the Southeast Asian nation, as Beijing seeks to cement its hold over a
neighbor increasingly isolated by the West.
But no major new projects were agreed during the two-day visit by
President Xi Jinping, the first of any Chinese leader in 19 years.
Analysts said Myanmar was generally cautious of investments by Beijing
and was also being careful ahead of elections later this year.
Still, Xi and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi signed 33 agreements
shoring up key projects that are part of the flagship Belt and Road
Initiative, China’s vision of new trade routes described as a “21st
century silk road”.
They agreed to hasten implementation of the China Myanmar Economic
Corridor, a giant infrastructure scheme worth billions of dollars, with
agreements on railways linking southwestern China to the Indian Ocean, a
deep sea-port in conflict-riven Rakhine state, a special economic zone
on the border, and a new city project in the commercial capital of
They did not address a controversial $3.6 billion Beijing-backed mega
dam, where work has been stalled since 2011, reflecting the
contentiousness of Chinese investment in Myanmar, where many are
uncomfortable with the sway Beijing has over its smaller neighbor.
"While a large number of different agreements have been signed, there is
no Big Bang here," said Richard Horsey, a Yangon-based analyst with the
International Crisis Group.
"The overall impression is that Myanmar is being cautious about Chinese
investment, especially ahead of elections planned later in the year, he
"China will be hoping that this is an incremental step toward realizing
its mega-infrastructure goals, and that further progress can be locked
in over the coming months," he said.
‘DERAILED’ BY WEST
At a welcoming ceremony on Friday, Xi hailed a “new era” of relations
between the countries.
“We are drawing a future roadmap that will bring to life bilateral
relations based on brotherly and sisterly closeness in order to overcome
hardships together and provide assistance to each other,” Xi said. He
was scheduled to leave later on Saturday.
[to top of second column]
Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hands with Chinese
President Xi Jinping at the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw,
Myanmar, January 18, 2020. Nyein Chan Naing/Pool via REUTERS
Suu Kyi called China “a great country playing an important role in
the international affairs and the world economy” but urged for
economic projects that avoid environmental degradation and benefit
Xi also met leaders from political parties in ethnic areas riven
with civil conflict where Chinese infrastructure projects are
Sai Kyaw Nyunt, joint-secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for
Democracy, one of the ethnic politicians invited to meet Xi, said it
was only a handshake.
“Our country is very small and powerless,” he said, “So they treat
us that way.”
The two countries have historically had a fraught relationship, but
have moved closer since 2017, when Myanmar was internationally
condemned for its treatment of minority Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine
More than 730,000 Rohingya were forced to flee western Myanmar after
a military crackdown that the United Nations has said was executed
with “genocidal intent”. China has defended the country on the
global stage and is viewed as the biggest obstacle to a prosecution
of its leaders at an international war crimes tribunal.
An article in Chinese state media ahead of the state visit said
Myanmar had been “derailed” by its engagement with the West and only
China was willing to “pull Myanmar from the sludge”.
“But after some turbulence, Myanmar realized there were double
standards in the approach Western countries had taken on human
rights issues and began to turn to China for diplomatic and economic
help,” the article in the Global Times said.
(Reporting by Thu Thu Aung, Writing by Poppy McPherson; Editing by
[© 2020 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2020 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Thompson Reuters is solely responsible for this content.