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Myanmar Economy Corridor in the Context of China’s Generation Road Attempt

China, generation and road attempt projects initiated in 2013, increases its economic and strategic effectiveness on all continents. Beijing, which set out to revive the Historical Silk Road, may face various difficulties in the economic corridors extending to the West.These are basically instability in Afghanistan and Myanmar, terrorism problems in Pakistan, and political fights with India.Due to these difficulties, China has turned to alternative projects that will guarantee the security of economic corridors.China-Myanmar Economy Corridor (ÇMEK) is one of these projects.

In line with this project, China invests in the Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and thus opens to the Gulf of Bengal. Thanks to this corridor, Beijing created an alternative to the Bangladesh-China-India Myanmar Economy Corridor, which was in a dead end due to disputes with India in the context of Kashmir problem. The biggest challenge that China has faced in Myanmar is the dragging of the country to the civil war after the February 1 military coup in 2021. The clashes in Rakhine (Arakan), Kaçin and Şan states have the capacity to negatively affect China’s economic investments in Myanmar.

Strategic Importance of Myanmar

Located on the west coast of the Indochina Peninsula, Myanmar serves as a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia. Having a coast on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, Myanmar is China’s gateway to the Indian Ocean.In addition, Myanmar forms the western leg of China’s economic corridor opening to the Indochina Peninsula. In other words, China not only invests in Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu Port in the Bay of Bengal; it is also constructing a land corridor leading to Thailand.

The aforementioned land corridor extends from Kunming city of China to Mandalay, which is located in the central part of Myanmar and therefore at the center of transportation networks, and from there to Yangon on the Andaman coast and then to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. The China-Myanmar Economic Corridor runs from Kunming to Mandalay and from there to Kyaukpyu Port on the Sea of Bengal.

China’s Role in Myanmar

China plays a key role in Myanmar’s security and peace process. As a matter of fact, the conflicts between the armed ethnic groups on the border and the Myanmar Army cause tens of thousands of refugees to take refuge in China, and these conflicts sometimes spread to China. For this reason, Beijing served as a mediator and official observer in Myanmar’s peace talks in 2013.

Especially after the ethnic Kokang rebels of Chinese origin in Myanmar’s Shan State intensified their attacks on the Myanmar Army in 2015, the Chinese authorities increased their border controls and called on all parties to prevent further escalation of the war.China continues to play a facilitating role in the interethnic peace talks with the Myanmar Government. In this way, China aims to secure the energy and transportation corridors stretching from Yunnan Province to Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu city and its investments in the free trade zone.

China-Myanmar Economic Corridor

In November 2017, the construction of the Kyaukpyu-Kunming Railway, which forms the basis of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, was decided, and a memorandum of understanding was signed in September 2018, concerning the “basic infrastructure” issues.1

The 1,700 km long CMEK stretches from Kunming, China, to Mandalay, then south to Yangon and west to the Kyaukpyu Free Economic Zone (KSEB) in Rakhine Province.China attaches great importance to the construction of the Kyaukphyu deep-sea port in the said project. It is planned to start the construction of the industrial zone after the port project is completed.2

The reason why China attaches importance to the port project is that it wants to transform Myanmar into a strategic base in international maritime trade.Because 80% of China’s maritime trade takes place through the Strait of Malacca. Therefore, China attaches importance to the construction of a deep-sea port in order to enable oil tankers from the Middle East to dock at Kyaukpyu Port.

The conversion of the oil terminal at Kyaukpyu into a deep-sea port will make it not only a hub for oil and gas, but also an important port for container and dry cargo ships. The goods in question will be transported to China via the Kyaukpyu-Kunming Railway Line.

As can be understood from the foregoing, China is trying to build new ports in different seas and oceans in order to eliminate barriers to maritime trade. In this sense, the deep-sea port, pipelines, railway and industrial park projects in Kyaukpyu play a critical role in China’s blue economic corridor extending to Europe and Africa. This can be interpreted as an important initiative that will remove the barriers to trade around the world.

The main projects China has agreed with Myanmar within the scope of CMEK are: Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone, Myitkyina, Muse and Kanpiketi Border Trade Zones in Kachin and Shan States; A new city near Yangon, which will cover an area twice the size of Singapore, and the Muse-Mandalay Railroad Line.3

As a result, China, which is trying to develop the Colombo and Hambantota ports in Sri Lanka within the scope of the Belt and Road Initiative, has turned to Myanmar to acquire new logistics bases in the Indian Ocean. In this context, ÇMEK is becoming one of the economic corridors in which Chinese companies invest the most within the scope of the Belt and Road Initiative.



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