Analysis: Deft Diplomacy Required as China, Japan Court Myanmar

YANGON—While the West abandons Myanmar over the human rights crisis in Rakhine, China and Japan, understanding the value of the country’s strategic location in Southeast Asia, have done the opposite, accelerating their collaboration in a bid to get the upper hand and further their own grand plans.

Beijing and Tokyo’s strategies to connect continents and oceans with sea lanes and inland highways that will improve Myanmar’s infrastructure have the potential to revive the country’s slowing economy and position the country as a regional trade and supply hub.

Key Chinese figures have been traveling back and forth between the two countries this year to pursue Beijing’s dream of implementing the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), part of its region-wide Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). A week after signing the Kyaukphyu SEZ, the vice chairman of China’s top economic planning agency pushed Myanmar’s State Counselor—who also serves as chair of Myanmar’s BRI steering committee, to move forward with projects on the ground.

Myanmar’s BRI steering committee comprises 25 members including 18 Union ministers (from ministries ranging from Home Affairs to Hotels and Tourism); five chief ministers (from Kachin, Mandalay, Rakhine, Yangon and Shan); the foreign affairs permanent secretary; and the chairman of the Naypyitaw Council.

Last month, Beijing secured a long-awaited agreement to build the Kyaukphyu deep-water port in northern Rakhine State, which already serves as the terminus for twin cross-border oil and gas pipelines between the two countries. Kyaukphyu is a crucial phase in the CMEC.

According to U Set Aung, deputy minister for planning and finance, the Kyaukphyu project will contribute to the sustainable development of both countries and will also be crucial to enhancing Myanmar’s regional connectivity.