China is planning to build vital trade & logistics links with Myanmar along the Ayeyarwady River as part of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) to bypass poor road infrastructure.
Proposed by China in November 2017 as part of its global Belt & Road Initiative, the CMEC is expected to connect China’s Yunnan Province with Mandalay in central Myanmar before branching southeast to Yangon and Southwest to Rakhine.
The Chinese have commenced feasibility studies on a road and river route linking Kunming to Mandalay and Yangon via the Ayeyarwady, said President of China Kunming South Asia & Southeast Asia International Logistics Research Institute Liu Jinxin during a forum in Yangon this month.
He said that on the China side, railroads and bonded warehouses have already been constructed at Kunming Tenjun International Dry Port.
On the Myanmar side though, Mr. Liu said supporting infrastructure such as inland river ports and other facilities will be needed along the Ayeyarwady. Myanmar will need help constructing a port in Bhamo, the Kachin city located by the Ayeyarwady.
“Currently, infrastructure along the Ayeyarwady River is still weak,” Mr Liu said, adding that based on the conditions of the river, facilities like ports would be a challenge to build without help.
U Hla Oo, chair of the Cross-Border Trade Development Committee, said this is due to high silt levels in the river. “We will have trouble clearing the silt in a cost-effective and systematic way. The conservation work involved will be very expensive,” he said
Nevertheless, investors from Japan and Singapore have shown interest in port projects along the Ayeyarwady, which is the country’s largest river.
In fact, river ports are slated for construction at Bhamaw, Mandalay, Pakokku, Magwe along the Ayeyarwady and Monywa and Kalaywa along the Chindwin River under the National Transport Master Plan 2015-35 drafted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and Ministry of Transportation and Communication.
“Bhamo has strong economic relations with China so the town has potential to become a Port city. Mandalay has been designated as it is expected to receive larger volumes of containerised goods via the Mandalay-Kunming railroad.
Pakokku is also a popular transit point for goods so it would be important to have a port there,” said U Win Khant, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transportation & Communications.
The focus on linking the CMEC via the Ayeryarwady comes in the wake of “serious congestion problems” and damage caused by armed clashes along the Mandalay-Muse & Lashio-Chinshwehaw highways, said Mr Liu.
At present, construction of the Myanmar Mandalay International Dry Port and Yangon International Dry Port has been completed and both facilities have commenced operations.
Meanwhile, a land river channel along Zhangfen-Bhamo-Mandalay-Yangon is also already in use to transport freight. Once all the facilities are in place, the route has the potential to handle over 20 million tonnes of freight per year, the authorities said.