Myanmar: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Charm Offensive
The Chinese Foreign Minister made an official visit to Myanmar, Indonesia, Brunei and Philippines in the second week of January.
Wang Yi’s first halt was in Myanmar. This was the first visit of any Foreign official after the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD.
China was in a desperate hurry and made haste to visit the new Government which was yet to settle down. It was only in January last year that Xi Jinping visited Myanmar and aggressively pushed for speeding up the projects under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) under the Belt and Road Initiative. Despite the country being busy in combating the spread of Wuhan Virus, China and its visitors periodically reminded Myanmar of its desire to speed up the projects under the BRI.
Having unleashed the Virus worldwide China, made a great show in offering medical supplies to the tune of three million Yuan (464,000 US$) to Myanmar.
A day before Wang Yi arrived (11th of Jan) Representatives of both countries signed an MoU on a feasibility study of the Mandalay- Kyaukphyu Railway Project that will boost the presence of China in the Indian Ocean.
Another MoU was signed to improve many rural roads and bridges of the country.
The Chinese handed over a cash certificate of support for resettlement of IDPs in Kachin State.
The officials of China and Myanmar met at Naypyitaw to discuss for speedy implementation of three projects in Kachin State.
- US 400 million Myitkyina Economic Zone
- A Business Park in Kanpiket
- A Port in Bhamo. Bhamo is located on the river Aiyarwady in souther part Kachin and not far from Mandalay.
One may ask – why this special treatment of Kachin State? There could be two reasons. One is the resistance of the people in Kachin State over the Chinese projects in Kachin State and it has not abated. The Myitsone Dam is still in the limbo and public objections have only grown and not diminished. People have seen the predatory nature of the Chinese projects and yet the Chinese have not given up the project.
Second, the Port at Bhamo is of strategic importance to China as this will give them a second opening to the Indian Ocean. It is a part of the China-Ayerwady Economic Belt-a strategic land and water transport that would start in Kunming, Yunnan Province of China and run through Longchuan in Yunnan, to Bhamo in Kachin State and then on to Yangon! This would give China another opening to the Indian Ocean.
It is to be presumed that the CPEC running through Pakistan to Gwadar is not giving China the expected results.
During Wang Yi’s visit Myanmar was given an interest free loan of 80 million Yuan (very unusual) for the purchase of Passenger coaches.
After calling on the President and the State Counsellor Suu Kyi, Wang Yi had a long meeting in the office of the Counsellor with U Kyaw Tint Swe and discussed ways and means to enhance bilateral relations, ensure security, peace and stability in the border areas besides continued Chinese support in the Peace Process and the problems of Internally Displace Persons in Rakhine State.
In view of the upcoming projects under the CMEC, China would certainly need Peace and Stability in the border regions. In Chinese perception, the best way to maintain peace and stability in the border regions is to supply arms and support the ethnic armed organisations spread along the border which the EAOs in return will not attack the Chinese projects and its personnel. This is happening in the Northern Rakhine too where the Chinese projects are left unharmed whereas projects of others are not left alone!
The interesting part of Wang Yi’s visit was the meeting with the Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing on the 12th. It is said that the Army Chief discussed in detail about the General elections and how the voter’s lists were not properly made out by the Union Election Commission thereby implying that elections were not fair. The Army has earlier repeatedly been complaining about the discrepancies in the Voters lists and it proxy USDP has filed many complaints before the Election Commission.
It is strange that the Army Chief should discuss the internal problems with the Chinese Foreign Minister who is least interested in the outcome. He had come to take stock of the new regime and pressurise the new Government to speed up projects that of great geo strategic importance to China (not to Myanmar).
It looks that the Army Chief had ambitions of his own (Presidentship) and the disastrous showing of its proxy – the USDP in the General Elections may have upset his calculations!