In a significant new development, China has proposed initiating an economic corridor with Myanmar to advance bilateral trade links, creating a central intersection for the Belt and Road Initiative between Southeast Asia and China.
Addressing the media while on a recent visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced, “China and Myanmar have great potential for cooperation as they are highly complementary in economy. To further enhance China-Myanmar comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership, China has proposed building the China-Myanmar economic corridor.”
Starting from Yunnan in southwestern China, the corridor would proceed south to Mandalay in Myanmar, eastward to Yangon and then westward to the Kyaukpyu special economic zone. This would boost connectivity and facilitate development throughout Myanmar.
Three branches of this network would operate along with a proposed $1.5 billion oil pipeline through the Bay of Bengal. Deepening economic cooperation with these new projects under the BRI, China has also backed a $7.3 billion deepwater port in Rakhine state.
Explaining the geo-strategic location of Myanmar, expert Gu Xiaosong has said it “serves as an important intersection for the Belt and Road Initiative,” and the new corridor will “allow China to access the Indian Ocean more conveniently.”
Ostensibly, one of the originally planned six corridors of the Belt and Road Initiative, the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar Economic Corridor) is still in the pipeline, this new round of mega-projects will help focus on the uplifting and development of the entire region and launch the BCIM in tandem with the new CMEC.
Along with opening up development prospects for Myanmar, Foreign Minister Wang Yi also proposed a peace process to address the country’s ongoing tensions with Bangladesh over the prevailing Rohingya refugee situation. Spinning out of control, an exodus of 600,000 refugees to the neighbouring country has plunged both into a crisis with no seeming workable solution.
Proactively, the Chinese Foreign Foreign Minister put forward a three-step peace initiative, firstly focusing on achieving an effective ceasefire, secondly keeping communication lines open to avoid misunderstandings, and thirdly, finding a realistic long-term solution to the conflict with international assistance.
Finding the peace strategy beneficial and mutually acceptable, both Myanmar and Bangladesh have responded positively to the three-phased solution, as confirmed by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang.
Welcoming the mediation efforts as well as the economic corridor and development offer, Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw said he “appreciated the proposal of building a China-Myanmar economic corridor, and intends to actively integrate with the Chinese side over the project.”
Simply yet effectively, the Chinese approach to the issue is to develop Rakhine state, which is the flash-point of the ongoing conflict, with the help of the new China Myanmar Economic Corridor project. Having observed that economic instability and unemployment usually cause such problems, improving living standards with jobs and development usually is the only practical solution.
Along with this, gradual repatriation of refugees in Bangladesh could be organised by both sides according to their previous understanding.
Visiting Myanmar only last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proved unable to solve the crisis as he took a stern stance and called the Rohingya matter “ethnic cleansing,” which offered no chance of progress.
Yet under Chinese advice, Bangladesh and Myanmar have finally signed a deal to return the Rohingya displaced by the conflict, a welcome step for the former. Though details still need to be fleshed out, the Bangladesh foreign ministry has stated that the process of repatriation would begin within two months.
With a ceasefire already achieved, the Bangladesh Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali optimistically said it was the “first step” while a senior Myanmar official Myint Kyaing reaffirmed the Rohingya would be re-settled “as soon as possible.”
Having solved an international crisis that had all the potential to spin out of control, China taking an active interest in peace efforts augurs well for South Asia. Recently, the first mediation effort by China was between Afghanistan and Pakistan and it helped calm the situation; now, this second diplomatic initiative has taken the world by surprise, while Bangladesh and Myanmar have finally heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief.
As planned by the U.S. and other powers, sanctioning Myanmar would have been counter productive, what China did was consider the economic aspect and bring about a mutually acceptable formula for stability.
Not only that, these developments would also firmly establish both the countries as Belt and Road Countries, narrowing down the odds for any future friction as they avail the benefits of trade opportunities and connectivity.