Category Archives: Neighbour

Understanding ‘PaukPhaw’:Can Myanmar Resist China’s Debt Trap

Understanding ‘PaukPhaw’:Can Myanmar Resist China’s Debt Trap

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.

By: Ravi Shankar
Credit: bharatshakti.in

Japan: Cancel Financial Grant to Myanmar Police

Myanmar border guard police officers walk along a path in Tin May village in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar, July 14, 2017. © 2017 AP Photo

End Assistance to All Military-Controlled Entities

(Tokyo) – The Japanese government should immediately cancel plans to donate money to purchase vehicles and communications equipment for the Myanmar police force, Human Rights Watch said today. The police force, which operates under the auspices of the military, outside the control of the civilian government, has a well-documented record of serious human rights violations.

On July 2, 2020, Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced a grant of 100 million yen (US$930,000) to the Myanmar police for the purpose of purchasing vehicles and wireless equipment for “protecting dignitaries.” The Foreign Ministry claimed the donations would “strengthen the Myanmar police’s ability to carry out public security measures,” create “social stability,” and contribute to Myanmar’s “socio-economic development.”

“It’s inexplicable that the Japanese government would try to curry favor with Myanmar’s abusive security apparatus by providing financial assistance to the police,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Instead of supporting Myanmar’s police, Japan should be helping the victims of rights abuses and ethnic cleansing by working with other donor governments to hold the security forces accountable.”

Myanmar’s police acted as a pillar of repression during Myanmar’s 50 years of military rule, arbitrarily arresting dissidents and student activists, engaging in widespread torture, and creating a climate of fear in the country, Human Rights Watch said. The police remain abusive and unconstrained, in large part because the military-drafted constitution maintains military control of the police. The police operate under the authority of the Home Ministry, which is led by a minister who the constitution mandates must be a serving military officer, and operates under the de facto control of the military.

In recent years, the police have engaged in joint operations with the military, carrying out atrocities, including crimes against humanity, against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2012, 2016, and 2017. The Myanmar police force, Border Guard Police, and security police battalions accompanied the military in so-called clearance operations that resulted in mass killings, rape, and arson. Police involvement was documented during the deadliest incidents in August and September 2017, including the massacres at Tula Toli and Gu Dar Pyin, where hundreds of Rohingya were killed.

Police took part in widespread rape, including gang rape, of Rohingya women and girls, as well as killing children while their mothers were being attacked. A woman from Zay Di Pyin, Rathedaung Township told the United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar: “I don’t know how many policemen raped me, it was not my priority. The only thing I can remember is that they were trying to take my children. They dragged my son from under the bed. I was screaming to protect my children. I have not seen my son again.” In several villages, security forces abducted women and girls and took them to police and military compounds where they were gang raped.

In Rakhine State, the Myanmar police operate the majority of checkpoints, which play a central role in the severe violation of Rohingya freedom of movement in the state. Police enforce an extensive system of extortion, as well as physical harassment at checkpoints, that sustains the Rohingya’s arbitrary confinement to villages and detention camps. Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented torture by police, including the Border Guard Police, against Rohingya who have been arbitrarily detained.

Myanmar police have responded to criticism and protests with arbitrary arrests and excessive and unnecessary force. In 2017, a Reuters investigation into the massacre of 10 Rohingya in Inn Din village prompted Myanmar police to entrap and arrest 2 of the news agency’s reporters. Security police officers told Reuters they took part in raids in the village on orders from the military.

In January 2018, police shot and killed seven ethnic Rakhine protesters among a crowd that had converged at a local government building in Mrauk U after authorities shut down an event.

The police have also been implicated in excessive use of force elsewhere in the country. In April 2020, a video showed police beating a man in Mandalay for violating curfew orders during the Covid-19 pandemic. In February 2019, police fired rubber bullets and a water cannon at ethnic Karenni youth protesting the installation of a statue honoring Myanmar’s independence leader, General Aung San. At least 20 protesters were injured as they attempted to move beyond police barricades.

In response to Human Rights Watch’s inquiry of whether the Japanese government has conducted human rights due diligence to make sure that the aid won’t be used for further human rights violations, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said it has “confirmed with the Myanmar government that this aid be used and maintained for said purposes in an appropriate, effective, and exclusionary manner.” The Foreign Ministry also stated Japan’s embassy in Myanmar will monitor whether the equipment is being used appropriately.

The Japanese government should suspend all aid to the Myanmar police until systematic reforms are carried out and the police are put under civilian control. Japan should also halt aid to all military-controlled entities and ministries, including the Home Ministry.

“The Japanese government should realize that giving shiny new equipment to Myanmar’s police won’t make them less abusive,” Adams said. “By conferring undeserved legitimacy on the Myanmar police, they are signaling to Myanmar’s people that their suffering is of little concern.”

Credit: www.thestar.com.my

Myanmar: Kirin Should Cut Ties to Military

Japan Beverage Giant Pledges to Address Human Rights Concerns

Plastic crates containing Kirin brand beer at the Kirin Brewery Co. factory in Yokohama, Japan, June 2019.  © 2019 REUTERS/Issei Kato

(Tokyo) – Japan-based Kirin Holdings Company, Ltd. should end its partnership with Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (MEHL) because of its connections to Myanmar’s abusive armed forces, Human Rights Now, Human Rights Watch, Japan Volunteer International Center, and Shapla Neer said today. The organizations wrote to Kirin on May 22, 2020, urging the global beverage company to terminate its partnership with the military conglomerate, and the company responded on June 12.

“Kirin is putting money right into the pockets of Myanmar’s military, which is responsible for countless atrocities against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Kirin should repair its damaged reputation by disentangling itself from the Myanmar military’s business conglomerate and its abusive armed forces.”

Kirin currently owns a majority stake in Myanmar Brewery Ltd. (MBL) and Mandalay Brewery (MDL) in partnership with the military-owned MEHL. In 2015, Kirin bought 55 percent of Myanmar Brewery Ltd, 4 percent of which it later transferred to the military-owned firm. In 2017, Kirin acquired 51 percent of Mandalay Brewery in a separate joint venture with the firm.

Myanmar’s armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, have long been responsible for grave violations of human rights and the laws of war against the country’s ethnic minority populations. These abuses culminated in the August 2017 campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, including killings, sexual violence, and forced removal, against the ethnic Rohingya population in Rakhine State.

A United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar reported in 2018 that atrocities committed by Myanmar’s armed forces “rise to the level of both war crimes and crimes against humanity.” In a September 2019 report, the panel concluded that “any foreign business activity” involving Myanmar’s military and its conglomerates Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation pose “a high risk of contributing to or being linked to, violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law. At a minimum, these foreign companies are contributing to supporting the Tatmadaw’s financial capacity.” The fact-finding mission advocated the “financial isolation” of the military to deter violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

“It has been over six months since the Fact-Finding Mission report advised companies to financially isolate the Tatmadaw, but Kirin still remains in partnership with MEHL,” said Kazuko Ito, secretary-general of Human Rights Now. “Each day that Kirin maintains ties risks that its business operations are aiding the military commit further human rights violations.”

Kirin has additional links to Myanmar’s military. According to Amnesty International, Kirin’s subsidiary MBL made donations worth at least US$30,000 to the Tatmadaw and Rakhine State authorities between September and October 2017. This was at the height of the military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya.

“Kirin has failed to provide a good explanation for its subsidiary donating tens of thousands of dollars’ worth to the Myanmar military and authorities just as its troops were systematically killing, raping, and expelling Rohingya civilians and torching their villages,” said Takatoshi Hasebe, secretary-general of Japan International Volunteer Center. “Kirin should take the Fact-Finding Mission report seriously and end its relationship with these military-owned companies now.”

Kirin Group’s Human Rights Policy states the company will respect international human rights law instruments, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This means Kirin should “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur,” and “seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.”

On June 12, Kirin responded to the groups’ letter, stating that it intends to “address the concerns raised by the international community regarding our business operations in Myanmar” and is “considering all actions and options available to us that will lead to a positive outcome for the people of Myanmar.”Kirin said it had signed the joint venture agreement on the condition that proceeds would not be used for military purposes, but also confirmed it has “formally commenced the process of exploring alternative structural options” regarding its ownership of its Myanmar businesses with help from external advisers.

Kirin also stated that “it is wholly unacceptable to Kirin that any proceeds from the joint-venture with the MEHL could be used for military purposes.” Kirin said it had hired a third-party auditor to “conduct an assessment of the materials provided by MEHL and other publicly available information” after stating “we have formally and repeatedly requested details of MEHL’s financial and governance structures to ascertain whether proceeds from joint-ventures with MEHL may have been used for military purposes.”

Kirin should urgently act to end its business partnership with the MEHL conglomerate and prevent its subsidiaries from making any further partnerships or donations to the Myanmar military, the organizations said.

“Kirin should demonstrate its commitment to its own Human Rights Policy by taking action to end its engagement with Myanmar’s military-controlled companies,” said Toyoaki Komatsu, secretary-general of Shaplaneer. “Such responsible action will show the country’s persecuted minority groups such as the Rohingya that demands for justice and accountability can bring results.”

Credit: www.hrw.org

Afghanistan and Myanmar drown in China’s loans; Afghanistan rejects loan

China’s embarrassment Photograph:( AFP )

Coronavirus may not have been the only virus that China is responsible for. Carried through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has successfully spread the virus of debt too.

Touted as the greatest plan in modern history to revive global trade, the BRI has been the biggest vehicle for China’s chequebook diplomacy.

The loans have crippled many poor economies and now, some of them are waking up to this fact — for instance Afghanista and Myanmar.. 

China claims to have signed agreements with 138 countries. Estimates say the BRI projects will cost over a trillion dollars.

China is running this lending operation for access and power.

While many countries are already drowning in Chinese debt without realizing it, Afghanistan and Myanmar have taken the first step by rejecting Chinese loans.

China’s renewed push in Afghanistan is a curious case. At first, China wanted nothing to do with this country as ridden by violence, it made no business sense.

However, Beijing sensed an opportunity as soon as Trump said he wanted to exit Afghanistan. Ever since, China has been trying to take CPEC into Afghanistan.

But Kabul sees the pitfalls. Afghanistan’s national debt stand at over 1.3 billion dollars, and China wants to give more loans to Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani has declined the loan.

In Myanmar, the auditor general has cautioned the government against Chinese loans.

Myanmar is already busy paying back loans taken during decades of misgovernance under the military junta. But, Myanmar is firmly in China’s grip. So, saying no to chinese loans won’t be easy…

China is Myanmar’s largest lender, and its biggest trading partner.

Myanmar’s current national debt stands at 10 billion dollars — 40 percent of this debt is already owed to China.

From 1988 to 2010, China gave out massive loans to Myanmar. These loans have been coming due since 2018, and Myanmar is paying back around 500 million dollars per year, including principal and four percent interest rate.

This is a classic example of China’s preadatory lending.

The auditor general has pointed out that loans from China come at higher interest rates compared to loans from financial institutions like the world bank or the IMF. He said, “I would like to remind government ministries to be more restrained in using Chinese loans.”

However, will the government listen?

In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi agreed to speed up projects under the BRI. This resulted in 33 agreements, from mega power projects to railways.

Myanmar has already suffered once, it must not repeat the mistake again.

China’s gameplan

Chinese financial institutions lend money for BRI projects. Construction contracts are awarded to mostly Chinese firms.

A Chinese company receives much of the proceeds of the loan and then projects tend to suffer delays or cancellations. There are corruption concerns, and the host country ends up with a massive pile of debt.

Edited By:  Palki Sharma

Credit: www.wionews.com

Myanmar Pulls Swiss Firm to Scrutinize China’s BRI Project

The towns of Muse, Myanmar (foreground) and Ruili, China (background), as seen from Muse in Shan State. / Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy

YANGON—The Myanmar government says it is receiving help from a Swiss company to scrutinize a China-backed study on Beijing’s ambitious railway project to connect Mandalay with Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in southwestern China.

At a press conference in Naypyitaw on Wednesday, Myanma Railways Managing Director U Ba Myint said the Swiss company has already stepped in as a third party to review the feasibility study for the Muse-Mandalay Electric Railway, submitted by China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group (CREEG).

The managing director did not disclose the name of the Swiss company, but said the company will cover all their own expenses for the review.

The US$8.9 billion Muse-Mandalay Railway project is part of the backbone of the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which is itself part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing’s grand Asia-Pacific infrastructure plan. The Muse-Mandalay Railway is expected to be a key part of the economic corridor and connect with the Chinese rail network at the Chinese border town of Ruili in Yunnan Province.

The railway an initial part of the strategic China-Myanmar High Speed Railway, which aims to connect Kyaukphyu in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State with Kunming via Muse, in Shan State.

In 2011, Beijing and Naypyitaw first signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to build a railway from Ruili to Kyaukphyu via Muse. The entire rail line was to run 810 km. However, the government of then-president U Thein Sein suspended the project due to strong local objections and concerns about unfair terms, including interest rates and revenue sharing as well as security. The agreement expired in 2014.

In 2018, CREEG (formerly China Railway Group Ltd.) and Myanma Railway signed an MOU to begin the feasibility study. CREEG covered the cost of the study, which was then submitted to the Myanmar government in April last year during Beijing’s second BRI forum. The study included alignment measurements for the route, the number of stations, water samples, and earth, gravel and soil tests.

“The [Swiss] company will check the details of the feasibility study, including railway routes, alignments and specifications. They will also analyze whether the cost [as calculated by the Chinese side] makes sense,” U Ba Myint said. “They will also scrutinize whether there is anything bad for the Myanmar side.”

U Ba Myint added that “if the company finds that it will be beneficial for us, we will pass it on to the related committees to make the final decision. After all the related stakeholders [from the Myanmar government] have reviewed it and advised us that the project should move forward—then we will move forward with the project.”

“We have no plan to implement it at all if the project would be bad for our country,” he said.

Public concern has increased recently regarding the influx of Chinese immigrants, land confiscations and the loss of livelihoods and resources due to the project. In response, U Ba Myint said, “Let me assure you this: we will think carefully in order to avoid causing any harm to the country.”

According to Myanma railways, Myanmar experts already sent back their feedback on the feasibility study to CREEG. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Myanmar early this year, the sides exchanged letters about the Muse-Mandalay Railway feasibility study.

Muse sits on Myanmar’s border with Yunnan and is the largest trade portal between the two nations. With Mandalay as central Myanmar’s commercial center, the railway could become a lifeline for China-Myanmar trade.

The 431 km-long railway is designed to reach speeds of 160 km per hour, meaning it will take only three hours to get from Mandalay to Muse. Currently, Mandalay is connected to Muse via Lashio by a national highway. The drive normally takes more than eight hours.

Critics have raised concerns that the project could burden Myanmar with unsustainable debts and provoke more armed conflict in the project area as the railway will pass through armed conflict zones in northern Shan State.

The majority of local people along the railway have said they were not fully consulted for the project’s environmental impact assessment. Locals said they had received no specific information about the project, though they are increasingly fearful about forced displacement, farmland confiscations, losing water resources and the social impacts of the planned project.

By: NAN LWIN
Credit: www.irrawaddy.com

China flips the electoral script in Myanmar

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi shake hands before a bilateral meeting at the Presidential Palace in Naypyidaw, January 18, 2020. Photo: AFP/Pool/ Nyein Chan Naing

CHIANG MAI – Elections are scheduled for November in Myanmar, and there is no indication so far that the polls will be postponed due to the Covid-19 crisis. Neither is there much doubt about the outcome.

Most political observers believe that State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) will win again, though not in the same landslide fashion as in 2015 as recent by-elections show she and her party have lost significant support in ethnic areas.

But the bigger electoral question is how her party’s delicate relationship with the autonomous military will play out and in that context how her government’s ties to its powerful northern neighbor China will be portrayed and potentially politicized on the campaign trail.

An entirely new paradigm has emerged in Myanmar, one where Suu Kyi is now seen as a trusted ally of Beijing and the military as a nationalistic bulwark against China’s strong advances. That’s a significant reversal, one that could have implications for stability in the lead-up to polls.

When Suu Kyi was under house arrest during military rule or active in non-parliamentary politics, China viewed the long-time pro-democracy icon with suspicion. That was at least in part because her late British husband, a Tibetologist, maintained ties with many Tibetans in exile.

The military, on the other hand, was closely allied with China and depended on friendly relations with Beijing for arms supplies and diplomatic support at the United Nations, particularly when Western nations sought to refer its harsh political repression to the Security Council for possible sanctions.

Fast forward to the present and those tables have turned. Suu Kyi has become China’s go-to politician for projects and schemes, while the military, though not openly critical of Beijing, has sought to keep a distance from its advances.

The flipped script has been driven by geopolitics. The Rohingya refugee crisis, and Suu Kyi’s refusal to condemn the carnage the military unleashed in Rakhine state in 2017, have dramatically turned her from being the darling of the West into an international pariah.

She has been stripped of one human rights award after another, many of which she earned during her long non-violent struggle for democracy against abusive military rule.

As such, Western aid can no longer be taken for granted in Myanmar, with most grants conditional on improvements in or respect for human rights. But economic development is crucial for Suu Kyi to maintain her popularity ahead of this year’s election.

That has pushed her ever closer to China and its no-strings-attached aid and assistance. Indeed, in November 2017, just months after hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees streamed across the border into Bangladesh, Suu Kyi was given red carpet treatment in Beijing.

In January this year, Xi Jinping became the first sitting Chinese president to visit Myanmar since Jiang Zemin toured the country in December 2001. Xi arrived in Myanmar with 33 bilateral agreements that if implemented will bind Myanmar ever closer to China.

Those include high-speed rail and deep-sea projects and strengthening of the so-called China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which aims to give China direct access to the Indian Ocean. The agreements were crucial parts of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which Myanmar joined as a founding member in 2015.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Myanmar military’s commander, may have visited Beijing a week before Suu Kyi arrived in 2017, a visit at which Xi described Chinese-Myanmar military relations as “the best ever”, but both knew in reality that wasn’t and still isn’t the case.

Army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has tried to show the Myanmar army does not discriminate against other faiths. Photo: AFP/ Thet Aung

Myanmar’s military sees itself as the chief defender of national sovereignty and, according to security analysts in Yangon, the generals are apprehensive about China’s rapid economic and infrastructure expansion in the country.

That apprehension is compounded by insurgencies in ethnic Palaung-inhabited areas in northern Shan state and Rakhine state in the west, where the Arakan Army (AA) has grown from a handful of guerrillas to a formidable fighting force in the span of less than a decade.

It is hardly any secret that both the Palaung Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and AA are equipped with Chinese-made weapons obtained through the United Wa State Army, Myanmar’s strongest and best-armed ethnic army which has a long-time close relationship with China.

In November last year, the military expressed its displeasure that the country’s most active insurgents carry mainly Chinese arms. A huge cache of Chinese-made weapons, which the military claimed it had captured from the TNLA, was put on public display and shown on national television.

Among the haul was automatic assault rifles, recoilless rifles, boxes with bullets, RPGs and even a FN-6 shoulder-fired MANPAD, or man-portable air-defense system gun. Pictures displayed on social media have recently shown an AA commander carrying an FN-6, a gun which has been seen previously in a civil war situation only in Syria and Iraq.

China’s double-game in Myanmar, where it serves as both an armed conflict mediator and supplier of arms to insurgents, is a long-worn carrot and a stick approach to get what it wants, namely the CMEC and access to Myanmar’s rich natural resources including copper, gold, jade, amber and rare earth metals.

Myanmar is the only immediate neighbor through which China can bypass the congested Malacca Strait and the contested waters of the South China Sea, putting the development the deep-sea port at Kyaukphyu on the Bay of Bengal high on Beijing’s BRI agenda.

Source: Twitter

But China has not yet secured all it wants in Myanmar. A massive hydro-electric power project at Myitsone in the far north of the country was suspended in 2011 by then-president Thein Sein, a former army general. As much as 90% of the power produced was scheduled for delivery to China.

Moreover, the initial $7.5 billion price tag for the Kyaukphyu port project has been winnowed down to $1.3 billion amid concerns of a possible Chinese debt trap.   

Whether the military rolled back these two big-ticket projects is not immediately clear. Privately, however, sources close to the military’s leadership believe Suu Kyi is moving the country too close to China, without taking into consideration what Chinese largesse might mean for national sovereignty.

The Covid-19 crisis may increase that concern as Western investment has been largely shelved and China alone seems to be willing to assist and invest even more in Myanmar during the pandemic.

On May 20, Xi spoke by phone with Myanmar President Win Myint to highlight China’s donation of medical supplies and two medical teams to Myanmar to help fight the disease. China’s ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai emphasized in a recent interview with the Myanmar Times that Beijing remains committed to investing in the country despite Covid-19.

But that investment will likely accrue more political benefit to Suu Kyi and her NLD than the military’s aligned United Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in an election year, raising the prospect that Beijing’s deepening influence could for the first time become a political issue on the campaign trail.

Credit: asiatimes.com

Is China Deploying COVID-19 Diplomacy to Speed BRI Projects in Myanmar?

At present, fears that China is using the pandemic to exert excessive pressure and push through BRI projects in Myanmar are exaggerated.

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend the ceremony of signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) at president house in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020.
Credit: Nyein Chan Naing/Pool Photo via AP

With the COVID-19 pandemic past its peak in China, attention has turned to the Chinese government’s deployment of “COVID diplomacy.” This term frames how China’s government is sending medical supplies and personnel across the world — including to Myanmar — to build goodwill and show global leadership in fighting the pandemic. Some Southeast Asian observers say it is an overt propaganda campaign, with others going further and warning of the region’s acceptance of Chinese government soft power.

For Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) partners, some view China’s government are using such soft power to push through projects that may not be in the recipient’s best interests. In Myanmar, some saw Chinese Ambassador Chen Hai’s May 6 meeting with Deputy Minister for Planning, Finance and Industry U Set Aung regarding the implementation of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) project — which falls under the BRI — as an attempt to push such projects through. 

The discussions took place soon after Myanmar released its COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP), which was published on April 27. The CERP details the country’s short- and medium-term plan to deal with the economic impact of the pandemic and includes stipulations to expedite the solicitation of strategic infrastructure projects, as well as approve and disclose large investments by reputable international firms that are experiencing delays.

For the time being in Myanmar, however, fears that China’s government is using the pandemic to exert excessive pressure and push through BRI projects are exaggerated. The suspicion surrounding Chen Hai’s meeting is questionable given that discussions were on projects for which MoUs had been signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Myanmar in January this year, the first such visit by a Chinese leader in 19 years.

Indeed, the acceleration of the BRI in Myanmar was already underway before the global ramifications of the COVID-19 outbreak were known. Ahead of his arrival in Myanmar in January, Xi called for the “deepening of results-oriented Belt and Road cooperation and [to move projects] from a conceptual stage to concrete planning and implementation in building the CMEC.”

During Xi’s visit, the Kyaukphyu SEZ and deep-sea port, Myanmar-China border economic zones, and New Yangon City developments were described as the “three pillars” of the CMEC. These were the three projects reportedly discussed during Chen Hai’s May 6 meeting. Certainly, the Chinese government will be hoping to improve its image to ease BRI project implementation. Projects may be accelerated to mitigate the expected economic downturn in Myanmar. Yet, there has been no major shift in BRI project implementation because of the pandemic. Given the scale of BRI projects and importance to Myanmar’s economy, it would have been astonishing if such a meeting had not taken place soon after the CERP was released.  

Moreover, Chinese government soft power projection into Myanmar needs to be viewed in context. Myanmar has shown a degree of autonomy in its economic relations with China. Indeed, soft power is defined as the ability of a state to get what it wants through attraction rather than coercion, which some see China as trying to do via its COVID diplomacy. For soft power to be successful, however, depends on how the recipient actually responds to such diplomatic overtures, not whether the overtures are made.

Myanmar is not a passive bystander and has had success in securing better terms for BRI projects. In 2017, the CITIC consortium — which won a tender to develop the Kyaukphyu deep-sea port in 2015 — agreed to lower its stake in the project from 85 percent to 70 percent. This was after a Myanmar-government led committee pushed for better terms. Furthermore, in 2018 the Myanmar government successfully scaled down the project from $7.3 billion to $1.3 billion, recognizing it was taking on too much debt through the project.  ADVERTISEMENT

For the Chinese government, memories of the 2011 cancellation of the China-backed Myitsone dam in Kachin State following popular protests regarding its environmental impacts and allegedly exploitative terms will also be fresh in mind. Beijing is aware that if projects are simply rammed through, they could meet resistance and stoke public anger similar to that directed at the Myitsone dam. Indeed, China’s government appears ready to move at Myanmar’s pace regarding BRI project implementation, also recognizing that the upcoming elections in November will constrain Myanmar’s ability to move ahead with projects that the public is wary of.

Even with economic headwinds looming, and while there will be greater urgency to get BRI projects underway, this does not necessarily mean projects will be hastily and inequitably pushed through. Any exercise of COVID diplomacy deserves close scrutiny, of course; however, it is important to see projects in their local contexts and not be swayed by undue suspicion.

By: Shah Suraj Bharat
Credit: thediplomat.com

China provides medical supplies for Myanmar’s COVID-19 fight

Photo taken on May 13, 2020 shows medical supplies donated by Chinese government at the handover ceremony in Yangon, Myanmar. The Chinese government donated more medical supplies to help Myanmar in its fight against COVID-19 on Wednesday. (Xinhua/U Aung)

The Chinese government donated more medical supplies to help Myanmar in its fight against COVID-19 on Wednesday.

A total of 150,000 pieces of nucleic acid test kits and 18,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) were handed over to the Medical Research Department under the Myanmar’s Health and Sports Ministry.

“This donation of test kit portrays the strong contribution to Myanmar’s COVID-19 fight to produce more testing capacity here,” Dr. Zaw Than Htun, director-general of the department, told Xinhua.

It was learnt that the Chinese government has donated over 162,000 pieces of nucleic acid test kits, 3.95 million pieces of surgical masks, 48,600 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies to Myanmar so far since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country.

As part of the medical assistance, two groups of medical experts from China’s Yunnan province and Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently assisted in Myanmar’s prevention, control and treatment measures against COVID-19.

Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai (L) hands over medical supplies donated by Chinese government to Dr. Zaw Than Htun, director-general of Medical Research Department under the Myanmar’s Health and Sports Ministry, in Yangon, Myanmar, May 13, 2020. The Chinese government donated more medical supplies to help Myanmar in its fight against COVID-19 on Wednesday. (Xinhua/U Aung)

As of Wednesday morning, Myanmar has reported 180 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with six deaths.

Credit: www.globaltimes.cn

BANGLADESH PM ON HER MAIDEN OFFICIAL VISIT TO SINGAPORE

Bangladesh Prime Minister Ms. Sheikh Hasina

To strengthen Bangladesh’s relationship with Singapore, Bangladesh Prime Minister Ms. Sheikh Hasina made her maiden official visit to the country. Her meeting with the Prime Minister of Singapore Mr. Lee Hsien Loong got translated into the signing of two memoranda of understandings (MOUs), giving a boost to their business and bilateral relationship.

On signing of these MOUs, Mr. Lee Hsien said, “Singapore is a maritime nation situated between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, we should do more together. Singapore-based companies are keen on the growing Bangladesh market. The MOU on public- private partnership will facilitate more investments by Singapore companies in Bangladesh, particularly in the power, connectivity and infrastructure sectors.”

Thus, the MOU based on public- private partnership was signed to help and support the Singaporean firms in entering and establishing their presence in the Bangladeshi markets, which is ever growing and expanding. IE Singapore and the Public Private Partnership Authority of Bangladesh were the signatories to this MOU.

PRIME MINISTER OF SINGAPORE MR. LEE HSIEN LOON

The Civil Aviation Authorities of both the countries gave an agreeable shape to the second MOU for the purpose of advancing cargo and passenger services between Singapore and Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Ms. Sheikh Hasina stressed on the historic diplomatic relations between the two countries which have remained intact since 1972. She talked about the constant cordiality between the two ever since, and the prosperous futuristic collaborations.

With Singapore firm Sembcorp making investments worth US $ 1.1 billion in power plants, further investment engagements in Chittagong Port are being explored by PSA. While praising  the conducive working environment for Bangladeshi workers in Singapore, she hopes the trend continues and Singapore continues to remain a favourite destination for the workers.

She expressed her happiness on acknowledging the brewing interest and intent being showcased by the Singaporean companies in Bangladesh. She added, “Bangladesh and Singapore belong to different levels of development. But we can complement each other in our economic pursuit. In Singapore, you have capital, advanced technology and know-how while in Bangladesh, we have a large workforce. Moreover, a large section of our population is young and educated. These comparative advantages may be harnessed to our mutual benefit.”

MYANMAR’S HEALTHCARE SEGMENTTO RECEIVE AID FROMINDIA’S EXIMBANK

MYANMAR’S HEALTHCARE SEGMENTTO RECEIVE AID FROMINDIA’S EXIMBANK.

India’s Exim Bank under its Market Outreach Programme has evinced interest to invest in the healthcare sector of Myanmar. Post its liberalisation, interest from the global sphere in Myanmar’s investment landscape has revitalised, making the country more engaged and interested in the buzzing economic prospects offered by the word outside.

To fiscally benefit and support Myanmar’s health segment, a delegation from India’s Exim bank reached Myanmar early February as part of the bank’s Market Outreach Programme. This programme was undertaken to help the people of Myanmar receive better medical facilities in their own country. India has been well equipped in treating health problems owing to its advanced medical expertise and knowledge. This arrangement aims to provide affordable and efficient medical attention to the ailing people of Myanmar and prevent the urgency to travel to countries abroad for an expensive medical treatment leading to outflow of foreign capital from the reserves of the country.

Along with it, the opportunity to finance Indian investment in Myanmar was reckoned tantamount to Government of India’s Act East Policy. The delegation, on studying various sectors in the region perceived healthcare domain as the most significant segment in need of private sector investments. The Market Outreach Programme was carried out by the Exim Bank at Hotel Sule Shangrila, in association with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

The delegation to Myanmar was led by the Deputy Managing Director of Exim Bank of India Mr. Debashish Mallick. Members from Indian private sector hospitals, medical equipment and devices manufacturers, pathology labs, and hospital management companies were part of the delegation.