The bloc is struggling to preserve unity—and can’t decide what to do about the new U.S.-China rivalry.
For about two decades after the end of the Cold War, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) enjoyed a golden age. The organization’s 10 member states as well as China and the United States saw the bloc as key to the region’s security and economic integration. ASEAN as a collective entity worked hard to put itself at the center of regional architecture through a complex web of security institutions and relationships. At the height of its golden age, ASEAN believed it was in the driver’s seat of the region’s fortunes.
That golden age is over. Last week, ASEAN, which usually needs unanimous agreement to function, was struggling to preserve unity. After an emergency meeting about the crisis in Myanmar on Oct. 15, the bloc excluded Myanmar’s junta leader from an upcoming ASEAN summit, a rare move for the organization. As a loose organization without a clear strategic vision of its own, it is floundering as individual members break ranks and realign in the new U.S.-China rivalry. The recent announcement of the new so-called AUKUS military and technology pact among Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States has raised the region’s geopolitical stakes even further, casting yet another spotlight on ASEAN’s strategic paralysis.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. In one of the world’s most dynamic regions, a system led by either the United States or China would be untenable; ASEAN therefore made its virtue out of its desire to stay out of superpower conflicts. Because of its multilateral nature, consensual decision-making, and lack of strategic ambitions beyond its borders, ASEAN was seen as an honest, neutral broker. For the region’s diplomats, so-called ASEAN centrality—that ASEAN will speak for the region as a whole when outside powers are involved—became an article of faith.
In recent years, however, the edifice of centrality has crumbled. As former Singaporean diplomat Bilahari Kausikan argued, the great powers are fine with ASEAN centrality as long as it serves their interests. Individual member states have also made a mockery of the bloc’s unity by cutting their own deals with outside powers and blocking joint ASEAN action.
The first notable crack in ASEAN’s armor came in 2012. Cambodia, which held the organization’s rotating chair at the time, torpedoed an important ASEAN communiqué because drafts had mentioned the dispute between several member states and China in the South China Sea. Phnom Penh is seen to be closely aligned with Beijing.
But it’s not just China that’s working around ASEAN to achieve its goals. The Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy espoused by Australia, India, Japan, and the United States is a case in point. The strategy has innocuous-sounding principles: freedom of navigation and overflight, adherence to international law, and regional connectivity. But its power is it highlights principles China rejects. Most ASEAN members are maritime states and would strongly support these principles, but supporting the U.S.-led strategy publicly would rile China. For fear of enraging Beijing, ASEAN has struggled to take a collective position.
The same goes for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue—known as the Quad and formed by those same four states—which ASEAN countries fear is another red flag to China’s bull. Although the Quad, innocuously enough, is working on tangible deliverables—such as vaccine delivery, climate measures, and emerging technologies—it can also bring power to bear in and around the South China Sea in the form of joint military exercises and training. In August and October, the four Quad members’ navies conducted maritime exercises in the Philippine Sea and the Bay of Bengal, respectively. As a testament to these drills’ growing importance, the United States announced plans to possibly include Britain’s Royal Navy in the future. That non-ASEAN powers in the region are moving forward in the critical area of maritime security highlights ASEAN’s failure to push back against Chinese assertiveness.
But nothing has shaken ASEAN as much as AUKUS. The new pact announced last month involves the United States and Britain supplying Australia’s navy with nuclear technology to power a new generation of attack submarines that could definitively shift the region’s balance of power.
By: William Choong, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute and the managing editor of Fulcrum, and Sharon Seah, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute and the coordinator of its ASEAN Studies Centre.
Opposition to the military’s coup has boosted ethnic armed groups, creating a new challenge to its lucrative jade and gems business.
Life in Myanmar’s jade-producing regions was always difficult and precarious but since the military seized power from the civilian government on February 1, it has become even more dangerous.
In Kachin State’s Hpakant township, which has the world’s largest and most lucrative jade mines, there are more soldiers and police, access to mining sites has become more difficult and local markets have stopped operating.
“Many places are dangerous to dig jade now. There are only a few places where we can dig by hand or small machine,” said Sut Naw, a local miner who preferred to use a pseudonym for security reasons.
Police and soldiers are now guarding company compounds, he added, patrolling roads day and night. They also stop people on the streets or in their vehicles, checking for jade and other valuables and searching through people’s phones for evidence of resistance to the coup.
“I have seen many zombie movies, but never realised that I would be living in a similar environment,” he said. “People don’t go out at all unless they have to.”
The military has long dominated Myanmar’s jade industry and continues to rake in immense profits. Myanmar’s annual jade and gems emporium, held from April 1 to 10, brought in $6.5m on the sixth day alone, according to state media.
In 2015, the environmental watchdog Global Witness valued Myanmar’s jade industry at $31bn and described it as possibly the “biggest natural resource heist in modern history.” Identifying the Tatmadaw and armed elites as the industry’s biggest profiteers, the exploitation of jade was “an appalling crime that poses a serious threat to democracy and peace in Myanmar,” it said.
Keel Dietz, a Myanmar policy adviser with Global Witness, told Al Jazeera that with the Tatmadaw now in total control over the formal governance of natural resources, they were likely to step up that exploitation.
“There is a huge risk that the military, in their desperate efforts to maintain control, will look to the country’s natural resource wealth to sustain their rule, to buy weapons, and enrich themselves,” he said.
Escalating clashes between the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of an ethnic armed group in the resource-rich northern state and the military, known as the Tatmadaw, have raised questions over the control over the jade mines.
Before a 1994 ceasefire, the Kachin Independence Organization, which has been fighting for federal rights to self-determination since 1961, controlled most of the mines and local people were able to enjoy a share of the wealth through small-scale mining activities. The KIA is its armed wing.
The ceasefire saw most of the jade-mining region nationalised under a military government known for exploiting resources without regard for the social and environmental consequences.
The state-owned Myanmar Gems Enterprise took control over the regulation of mining activity and issuing licences, which it signed over to itself and to companies that benefitted its interests, including proxy companies, companies run by military cronies and those connected to armed actors including the United Wa State Army, which runs its own special administrative region on the China border and has a history of links to drug trafficking.
These companies levelled mountains, dug enormous trenches and dumped waste with impunity.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants flocked to the area, dreaming of digging their way to prosperity but found themselves scavenging through company waste heaps; if they found a big stone, it was confiscated by soldiers.
The natural environment was destroyed, landslides and mining accidents claimed hundreds of lives, and drug abuse skyrocketed – all while the Tatmadaw pocketed handsome profits.
Shortly after winning elections in 2015, the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to reform the industry and in August 2016, suspended the renewal of mining licences and the issuance of new ones.
But companies bypassed the suspensions with impunity, and the NLD government was widely criticised by rights groups for failing to bring meaningful changes to the jade industry. In July 2020, more than 170 people were buried in a landslide in a Hpakant jade mine.
“The government and military have never respected natural resources,” said Ah Shawng,* a land and Indigenous rights activist in Hpakant. “They extract resources as they wish and only for themselves. .. Our natural resources are all disappearing and being destroyed.”
But since the coup, resistance to centralised policies and the exploitation of ethnic people and the land and resources in their states appears to be rising.
The 2008 military-drafted constitution, which centralised land and resource management at the union level and entrenched Tatmadaw power, was abolished on March 31 by officials forced out by the military. In its place, they put forward an interim Federal Democracy Charter.
Mainstream support for armed resistance to military rule has also increased, as the Tatmadaw arrests thousands and indiscriminately shoots civilians. Some 739 people have been killed, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which is tracking the violence.
With ethnic armed groups, including the KIO, in a position to offer protection and help fight back against the generals, ethnic minorities’ struggles for self-determination under a federal system, which were once largely ignored by the majority Bamar public, are now increasingly popular. Pro-KIA demonstrations have been held across Kachin State and even in central Myanmar, while the number of recruits is rising.
Although the KIA and Tatmadaw have been at war since the ceasefire collapsed in 2011, fighting had slowed since 2018.
But since the coup conflict has escalated.
Clashes have been taking place nearly every day. The KIA, so far, appears to have the upper hand – it has taken several Tatmadaw bases and claims to have obliterated entire battalions, killing hundreds of soldiers.
Some of the most intense fighting has occurred in and around Hpakant, where Ah Shawng, the local rights activist who also prefers to use a pseudonym for her security, says most locals support the KIA.
“Now, when [junta] forces harm people, the KIA protects and stands with us,” she said, adding that the KIA had been successful in driving out some security forces from the area.
On March 28, the KIA killed about 30 policemen who had raided a jade mining site operated by the Taut Pa Kyal mining company, according to Kachin State-based media reports.
The company, according to a BBC Burmese article, is backed by the Kyaw Naing company, which has 64 licenced mining sites and failed to disclose a military crony among its beneficial owners in 2020. Days later, a photo circulated on social media of a police station, allegedly at another company jade mining site in Hpakant, bearing a white flag of surrender to the KIA. Al Jazeera contacted the KIO to verify the incidents but they declined to comment on matters related to Hpakant.
The KIA may be fighting to gain control of other areas as well – including some areas beyond Kachin State.
Local news agency Myanmar Now reported on April 15 that the KIA and Tatmadaw had clashed in Mogok, a city in Mandalay region hundreds of miles from Kachin State.
Mogok’s mines possess the world’s most valuable rubies, as well as other lucrative gemstones. On April 16, a group of youth in Mogok staged a pro-KIA march and drew a large “Welcome KIA” banner on the street. The next day, the military forces gunned down at least two people in the city.
Sanctions, import bans
The United States has already imposed sanctions on Myanmar Gems Enterprise, as well as on two military holding companies, Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited (MEC). This week, the European Union also added MEHL and MEC to its sanctions list.
Dietz of Global Witness told Al Jazeera that while the sanctions were “hugely important,” they were likely to have only a limited effect on the jade sector without the support of China, which serves as the primary market for Myanmar’s jade, a highly prized luminous green stone.
“Global Witness encourages the international community to place import bans on all jade and coloured gemstones coming from Myanmar,” he said.
He also expressed concern that as the Tatmadaw finds itself squeezed of funds, it might try sell off resource concessions in exchange for fast cash.
“The international community should make it clear to commodity trading firms and other investors in natural resources that now is not the time to be making large new resource deals in Myanmar – the military regime is not a legitimate government, and should not be allowed to sell away Myanmar’s remaining mineral wealth to sustain itself,” he said.
Tu Hkawng the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation under the newly-formed interim National Unity Government running in parallel to the generals’ administration, told Al Jazeera that it was time to bring natural resource management back into the hands of the local people.
Appointed on April 16, he has already begun engaging with local stakeholders to reform natural resource management policy through the lens of Indigenous rights.
“We are trying to build a collective leadership … to engage more with the grassroots-level community and solve the problems together,” he said. “This is a bottom-up approach. In order to achieve it, we have to build a network with every stakeholder and collaborate.”
He hopes that by addressing natural resource governance, the civil wars that have plagued the country for the past 70 years can finally be brought to an end.
“Every ethnic group has the right to manage and benefit from the natural resources on its own land. Right now we don’t have that,” he said. “If everyone gets to govern their own land, we won’t have to fight any more.”
*Names have been changed to protect the security of those interviewed, at their request.
The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway starts from India and goes to Thailand via Myanmar. Recently Bangladesh has shown its willingness to join the tripartite highway.
Why in News?
The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway starts from India and goes to Thailand via Myanmar. It is at the centre of transport diplomacy among ASEAN countries. Recently Bangladesh has shown its willingness to join the tripartite highway.
About the IMT Trilateral Highway:
The highway’s Imphal-Moreh portion on the Indian side, however, is expected to be completed only by 2023.
It will be linking Moreh (India) -Bagan (Myanmar) -Mae Sot (Thailand)
This highway is expected to help greatly in the transport connectivity which is almost 3660 km long cross border highway network and is currently under construction, expected to be completed by 2021.
The transnational highway connectivity was envisaged to enable trade from India to the other ASEAN nations.
It was decided to extend the Trilateral Highway to Lao PDR and Cambodia to deepen the India-ASEAN Relations at the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit 2012.
Bangladesh’s desire to join:
Bangladesh is interested in joining the IMT Trilateral Highway to enhance the connectivity with South East Asia. It wants to open new chapters in trans border corridors in the Indo Pacific Region.
Recently India Bangladesh Virtual Summit was held where the latter expressed its willingness to join the IMT Highway. Sheikh Hasina the Bangladesh PM wished Narendra Modi to help Bangladesh in its efforts.
Also to commemorate the significance of the road from Mujib Nagar to Nodia on Bangladesh-India border during the Liberation War, Bangladesh proposed to name it as “Shadhinota Shorok”.
Bangladesh wishes to join it now as BCIM, Bangladesh China India Myanmar corridor has made little progress. Also, India skipped the Belt and Road Forum which led to exclusion of BCIM Corridor from the list of projects covered by BRI.
Bangladesh also wants to trade with Nepal through India. It wants to use Indian roadways to get its trucks into Nepal.
Benefits of the project
The India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) highways project is aimed at opening the gate to ASEAN through the land.
The project will boost trade and commerce in the ASEAN–India Free Trade Area, as well as with the rest of Southeast Asia.
Since India has been working towards increasing its engagements with South East Asia under its `Act East Policy’ the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the region.
India’s efforts under the project:
India has undertaken the construction of two sections of the Trilateral Highway in Myanmar. These are the 120.74 km Kalewa-Yagyi road section and 69 bridges along with the approach road on the 149.70 km Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) road section.
India requested for one Land Port without a negative list, starting with Agartala-Akhaura and for transportation of goods from Chattogram port to the North East of India. India also proposed that its trucks use the Feni Bridge, once it is complete.
Recently India and Bangladesh have expanded their transport and connectivity routes. Sonamura Daudkandi Inland Waterway Route, Feni Bridge from Sabroom to Ramgarh and Haldibari Chilahati rail route are its examples. Leaving India aside now it is upto Thailand and Myanmar to accept Bangladesh to join IMT Highway.
The kilo class submarine has a displacement of 3000 tonnes, a diving depth of 300 meters and top speed at 20 knots.
Myanmar on Friday (December 25) officially inducted submarine handed over by India in the month of October. INS Sindhuvir was commissioned as UMS Minye Theinkhathu and inducted on the 73rd anniversary of the Myanmar Navy. During the commissioning ceremony, Indian ambassador to Myanmar Saurabh Kumar was also present along with top brass of Myanmar’s Navy.
The kilo class submarine has a displacement of 3000 tonnes, a diving depth of 300 meters and top speed at 20 knots. UMS Minye Theinkhathu is named after an ancient warrior and can operate for 45 days. It is equipped with 40 km range wire-guided torpedoes and 3M-54 Klub anti-ship cruise missiles. Myanmar has built a submarine base for it in a highly classified location.
Kilo class submarines are operated by Indian, Chinese, Russian and Iranian Naval forces and were designed by the Rubin Central Maritime Design Bureau, St Petersburg.
Some of the army’s purchases could well be in violation of a European arms embargo.
Myanmar’s military continues to attempt to acquire European-made equipment in apparent violation of European Union sanctions and embargoes, according to a new report.
An investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), published on December 8, reveals that the Tatmadaw, as the country’s military is known, has recently sought to procure equipment made by European companies, as well as Airbus planes from Jordan’s air force.
The report by Jared Ferrie and Timothy McLaughlin, based on leaked military budget documents obtained by Justice For Myanmar, a local activist group, notes that many of these attempted purchases have come since the military’s began to escalate its attacks on the Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2016. The following August, the army launched a massive “clearance operation” in which it torched villages, shot civilians, and drove more than 700,000 people over the border into Bangladesh.
These violent attacks led the European Union to extend a long-standing arms embargo against Myanmar in 2018. The embargo also prohibits the sale of “dual use” products, which have both civilian and military applications, and restricts the export of any equipment for “monitoring communications.”
The OCCPR report cites arms data from EU reports showing that British companies exported equipment to Myanmar in 2017, while Spanish firms did so in 2015. The purchases are described in such broad terms that it is unclear whether or not they violate EU sanctions, but the leaked budget documents reveal further intended purchases that would likely do so.
Separate documents obtained by Justice For Myanmar show that a Myanmar company, run by a British passport-holder and former airline executive, is facilitating the Tatmadaw’s purchase of two Airbus CASA C295 military transport planes from the Jordanian Air Force. Under the terms of the proposed $38.6 million deal, which is set to be closed this year, the Myanmar company – Aero Sofi Co. Ltd. – will also offers training for pilots at an Airbus facility in Spain.
While mostly used for transport, the CASA C295 aircraft can also be outfitted to deploy paratroopers or serve as a gunships. In a statement released to coincide with the OCCPR’s report, Justice Myanmar claimed that the deal “could cause immense harm to ethnic communities and inflame the brutal civil war raging in Arakan, Kachin, and Shan States.”
While Jordan does not have sanctions against Myanmar, the alleged deal offers an interesting insight into how the Tatmadaw veils its military purchases via the use of intermediaries. It also jars with the publicly stated views of Jordon’s Queen Rania, who has publicly denounced the Myanmar military’s “unimaginable acts of violence” in Rakhine State. “Children have been orphaned, women brutalized, family members butchered, villages burned to the ground,” she said during a visit to a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. “This is something that is unacceptable.”ADVERTISEMENThttps://fe7433690732b97ca6ef93b5d1d111f3.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
In addition to these reported acquisitions, OCCPR details a list of miscellaneous Tatmadaw purchases – everything from ammunition and sewing machines to German-made communications software – that may violate the EU’s ban on the export of “dual use” items. The budget documents cite products made by companies in other parts of the world, including radio equipment from Australia, television broadcast equipment from Canada, and bulldozers from the United States.
The report provides further evidence of the military’s continuing centrality to Myanmar’s political economy, nearly a decade after it relinquished its formal hold on power. During the previous half-century of direct military rule, the Tatmadaw succeeded in insinuating itself into the every sector of the country’s economy, from beer to mining.
A recent United Nations investigation into the Tatmadaw’s two large military-owned conglomerates – Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation – found that they had 120 subsidiaries – and that was just what the authors of the report could confirm.
The military also retains a privileged perch in Myanmar’s political system, care of the constitution that it forced through a bogus referendum in 2008. This ropes off a quarter of the seats in parliament for military-appointed candidates, giving the Tatmadaw a de facto veto over any constitutional amendments, as well as control of three crucial national security-related ministries. As a result, the government led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, which won a thundering re-election in polls last month, has been unable to exercise civilian control over the army.
The military’s economic predominance has given it myriad ways of acquiring weapons and other goods through a complex network of intermediaries, which are beholden neither to Myanmar’s civilian government nor the nations that maintain arms embargoes against the country. Another example cited by OCCPR is the case of a helicopter drone acquired from the Austrian firm Schiebel, which the company claims to have sold to an unnamed buyer for the purposes of “monitoring and mapping in mining and road construction.” In 2018, the device later surfaced in videos produced by Myanmar’s navy.
As the authors write, “The Tatmadaw’s broad economic influence, and the difficulty of navigating Myanmar’s bureaucracy, means foreign firms can find themselves dealing with military-linked companies even after conducting due diligence checks.” The report shows how imposing sanctions is easy enough, but enforcing them requires constant vigilance.
Japan firm to deliver 246 cars for Yangon Circular and Mandalay routes
Mitsubishi Corp. has signed two contracts with Myanmar’s state-run railway, Myanma Railways, to deliver new rolling stock, the Japanese trading house said Tuesday.
The total cost of the two projects is approximately 69 billion yen ($663 million), which will be covered by an international yen loan agreement between the governments of Japan and Myanmar. The projects are part of the Japanese government’s railway infrastructure export drive.
Mitsubishi will deliver 66 cars for the Yangon Circular Railway, which runs in a loop in Myanmar’s largest city, and 180 cars for the Yangon-Mandalay Railway, which connects Yangon, Naypyitaw and Mandalay.
The new cars will shorten travel time on the 46-km Yangon Circular Railway from about 170 minutes to 110 minutes, and on the 620-km Yangon-Mandalay Railway from about 15 hours to around eight hours.
Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, Spain’s leading rail car manufacturer, better known as CAF, will manufacture the train cars using Japanese equipment for part of its electrical systems and deliver the cars from 2023 to 2025.
Myanmar has been overhauling its national rail system, neglected during decades of military rule, starting with two major arteries pivotal to economic revitalization.
Work started in February 2018 to upgrade the Yangon Circular Railway. In addition to cutting travel time, the overhaul aims to boost service frequency by 40%.
The project has fueled development along the line in anticipation of a jump in commuters.
The redevelopment will extend to government-owned tracts surrounding Yangon Central Railway Station, the main stop on the loop. Along with a new domed transport hub next to the existing station, the site will house high-rise office buildings and shopping spaces.
The country also envisions establishing urban subcenters along the Yangon Circular Railway.
Meanwhile the improvement of the 60-year-old line between Yangon and Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, would be a boon to the northern Mandalay region, home to the country’s main producers of agricultural products and natural resources. The line also runs through Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw.
Move in line with vision that aspires to guarantee security for all maritime partners, says MEA
India will hand over INS Sindhuvir, a Kilo class submarine to the Myanmar Navy, the Ministry of External Affairs announced on Thursday. Addressing the weekly press interaction, official spokesperson of MEA Anurag Srivastava said this will be the first submarine of the Southeast Asian country and the move is in line with the overall Indian vision that aspires to guarantee security for all maritime partners.
“In this context, India will be delivering a Kilo class submarine INS Sindhuvir to the Myanmar Navy. We understand that this will be the first submarine of the Myanmar Navy. This is in accordance with our vision of SAGAR — Security and Growth for All in the Region, and also in line with our commitment to build capacities and self-reliance in all our neighbouring countries,” said Mr. Srivastava to a question.
The announcement came days after Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Chief of the Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane visited Myanmar and held talks with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander in Chief of Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The submarine, purchased from the Soviet Union in the 1980s, has undergone modernisation at the Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) in Vizag.
It belongs to a class of diesel-electric attack submarines built by the Soviet Union during the Cold War years.
The submarine will be the first in a fleet that Myanmar wishes to build and is likely to be used initially for training and orientation purposes for its Navy personnel. Last year, India supplied Myanmar ‘Shyena’ advanced light torpedoes as part of a defence deal. The October 4-5 visit of Mr. Shringla and General Naravane was also noteworthy as Myanmar and Bangladesh have recently engaged in a war of words over heightened military tension near the border at Chittagong regarding the Rohingya issue.
India’s military outreach to Myanmar is important as it comes in the backdrop of the ongoing military tension along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh between India and China, a leading industrial and business partner of the Southeast Asian state.
On 17 January 2020, President Xi Jinping visited Myanmar. The visit led to 33 bilateral agreements being signed to unleash the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) soft power which is not in the best interests of Myanmar. Nonetheless, in an attempt to question CCP’s role in aiding crimes against humanity, Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar Armed Forces, Senior General Min AungHlaing (MAH) probed Party President Xi on the role of CCP in assisting the large number Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) operating in Myanmar.
In November 2019, the Tatmadaw (official name of Armed Forces of Myanmar) seized a large cache of weapons which included a Chinese made FN-6 from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. The Tatmadaw has also been increasingly frustrated with the availability of Chinese made weapons with the Arakan Army (which has been declared as a terrorist organisation by the Government of Myanmar). This was also voiced by MAH during his recent visit to Russia where he stated that terrorist organisations active in Myanmar are backed by ‘strong forces’; albeit the CCP. This indicates that top Tatmadaw military brass has blamed CCP’s attempts to take advantage of the fragile internal situation and undermine the sovereignty of Myanmar.
Notwithstanding bilateral setbacks in 1967 and 1973, China-Myanmar relations (termed as “PaukPhaw‘ or fraternal) have been on the upswing since 1988. After the infamous ‘8888’pro-democracy uprisings, Myanmar was relegated to being a pariah by the West, and the CCP had swiftly moved in to fill the void. Over the years, as the West shunned Myanmar, the CCP became Myanmar’s key political, military, economic and diplomatic partner and began exerting disproportionate pressure and influence on Myanmar.
Today, China is important to Myanmar for several reasons. Economically, China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner and largest source of FDI. Diplomatically, the CCP uses its UNSC veto as a shield for Myanmar. Politically, the CCP has not only engaged extensively with both the ruling NLD party and the Tatmadaw but has also exercised its influence on EAOs in negotiating the peace process. In effect, the CCP with its “double game” continues to exploit Myanmar’s resources by accentuating its vulnerabilities.
The original cost of developing KyaukPhyu SEZ (which is a part of China-Myanmar Economic Corridor or CMEC) was $ 7.2 Billion. This cost was slashed to $ 1.3 billion by Myanmar over concerns of excessive debt. Whilst the environmental/ social impact assessment for the project is yet to begin, concerns have already erupted in the local populace. Though these concerns may seem premature, given Myanmar’s previous experience with other Chinese projects such as the LetpadaungCopper Mine (where Chinese operators blatantly resorted to land grabbing/ unauthorised evictions) and Myitsone Dam project (where construction had to be stopped in September 2011 due to environmental issues), these concerns are increasingly influencing Myanmar’s decision making. Today Mayanmar’s leadership is worried about the tell-tale signs of the “Dragon’s trap“.
Another shocking fact of CMEC is that it passes through the most troubled areas in Myanmar where EAOs have waged armed conflict for decades against Myanmar’s government. The KyaukPhyu SEZ (Rakhine state) is where the Arakan Army is active and the other end of CMEC is in the Northern Shan State where armed conflict has been raging. It is unclear how such large financial investments in these sensitive areas would assist in ending the armed conflicts. The converse is more likely to be the state. The CCP is infamous for closed-door negotiations and would resort to illegally paying the EAOs to progress the CMEC. Such payments will further empower the EAOs, and in turn, strangulate Myanmar’s peace process.
More recently, the Government of Myanmar has ordered a probe into the contentious Chinese development of ShweKokko in Karen State by illegal land confiscation/ construction, and the influx of CCP’s money for illicit activities. Be it the CMEC, Letpadaung Mine, Myitsone or Shwe Koko; in fact in all Chinese aided projects, total disregard of rules and insensitivity to local sentiments is a measure of the coercive approach of the CCP in exploiting Myanmar.
Anti-CCP sentiment in Myanmar is not only fuelled by large state-run projects such as CMEC but also smaller projects such as private infrastructure development, small-scale mining operations and agriculture – plantations, where exploitation of local population is rampant. Allured by cheap labour, land, lack of transparency and ineffective labour laws, CCP-backed Chinese private companies are investing heavily in plantations bearing cash crops in Myanmar. These plantations are often unregulated and the investors take the assistance of EAOs, thereby exploiting the locals and natural resources of Myanmar for CCP.
The emergence of COVID-19, limited transparency in CCP’s economic dealings and lack of concern for national sentiments, coupled with exploitation of natural resources have resulted in deep distrust and anxiety among the people of Myanmar against the Chinese. The hardened Western stance and increasing investment by CCP, push Myanmar further into the Chinese orbit, eventually paving the way to being shackled by the tentacles of the Dragon’s debt trap and becoming a client state.
The country’s Ministry of Electricity and Energy is seeking proposals for 30 large-scale solar plants. The selected developers will be awarded 20-year power purchase agreements.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE) has issued an invitation for PV developers to submit prequalifying bids for the construction of several solar plants throughout the country, with a combined capacity of 1 GW.
The document, which was published on the MOEE’s Facebook page, states that the selected independent power producers will be awarded 20-year power purchase agreements. Overall, 30 solar facilities with capacities ranging from 30 MW to 40 MW are expected to be built through the tender.
Prospective developers will have until June 18 to submit their proposals.
According to the latest statistics from the International Renewable Energy Agency, Myanmar had cumulatively installed 88 MW of PV capacity by the end of 2019. Most of that capacity came from a 50 MW solar plant that was completed last July.
Off-grid solar already plays a key role in Myanmar’s electrification strategy. A number of rooftop PV arrays and minigrid projects having already been developed in rural parts of the country. However, the utility-scale solar segment has also started to take off.
Myanmar is to build and launch a small Earth observation satellite by 2021 with the assistance of Japan.
Engineers and technicians from the Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University will travel to Japan as soon as travel restrictions imposed due to the Coronavirus pandemic are lifted, where they will be trained and educated by satellite engineering faculty at the Hokkaido and Tohoku Universities.
The small satellites will weigh approximately 50 kilograms and measure 50 x 50 x 50 centimetres, and will be used for remote sensing to monitor agricultural conditions, environmental monitoring, and disaster surveillance.
The students from Myanmar will spend up to five years working with the Japanese universities and will build two small Earth observation satellites, with the aim of launching the first one by the end of 2021. The students will be trained in satellite engineering and manufacturing, satellite data analysis and interpretation, as well as in all the necessary steps from satellite mission conception and development through to launch and on-orbit operations.
The total cost of the training programme is US$16 million for the training and accommodation of the students, the development of the two satellites, and their subsequent launch. All of the costs will be paid for by the Myanmar government.
The training of graduate students from Myanmar in Japan is part of a Myanmar government initiative to develop and establish its own space and satellite programme, and is being overseen and administered by the vice president of Myanmar, Myint Swe.
Japanese diplomats, space industry executives, and university officials have visited Myanmar often and met with officials there to lobby Japanese satellite technology and services. This lobbying has attracted much criticism from human rights activists, but Japanese analysts argue that if they did not provide Myanmar with satellite technology then Myanmar’s political leaders would simply seek it from countries such as China.