CHINA’S RAILWAY LINK-UP WITH CHITTAGONG VIA MYANMAR

Global Geopolitics & Political Economy

B.RAMAN

The Government-controlled Xinhua news agency of China reported as follows on October 17,2010: "Myanmar has planned to construct a railroad that will link a deep-sea port, Kyaukphyu, in western Rakhine state with Kunming, southwest of China, the local Weekly Eleven News reported Saturday (My comment: It is possibly a weekly of Myanmar ).The Kyaukphyu-Kunming railroad, which is part of the Kyaukphyu- Ruili platform project and national railroad network, is targeted to be finished in 2015. The railroad will pass through Rakhine State, Magway Region, Mandalay Region and Shan State in Myanmar, the report said. The railroad project is divided into such sections as Kyaukphyu- Eann-Minbu, Minbu-Magway-Mandalay-Lashio-Muse and Muse-Jiegao trans-border railroad. After the project is implemented, Myanmar’s Shan State and China’s Yunnan province can be connected directly and the railroad will mainly facilitate the goods flow from China, the report said, adding that Magway and Mandalay regions will then become the main business towns. Meanwhile, China has also planned to invest in a special industrial zone to be established in Kyaukphyu."

2. The Xinhua report did not say how the Government of Myanmar is going to find the funds for the project. Unless China lends the amount at low interest, Myanmar itself will not be able to raise the money. The "China Daily" had reported as follows on November  24, 2009: " Myanmar has begun to build a new railroad that will connect its border town Muse with Jie Guo ( Jiegao) in the Yunnan Province, China. Initial rail track tracing work has already begun with the railway station slated for Sone Kwe village near Lashio-Muse Union Road.Upon completion, the railroad should improve bilateral border trade and transportation routes."

3. Thus, what the "China Daily reported was the construction of a small stretch of a railway line near the Shan State’s border with Yunnan. The Government of Myanmar might be able to raise money  for this stretch, but for a longer line extending up to Kyaukphyu, it is unlikely to have its own funds.

4.Proposals for a rail link connecting Kunming in Yunnan with Chittagong in Bangladesh via Myanmar have been under consideration for some years as part of the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) project of  the UN Economic and Social Commission  for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). China, which is the only country having the required funds and engineering experts for undertaking the projects in Myanmar and Bangladesh, has been taking interest in the implementation of the TAR project, which would benefit China economically and strategically.

5. This project figured during the discussions at the  plenary session of the 11th People’s Congress  Standing Committee of the Yunnan Province held at Kunming  in February 2009. Briefing the media on that occasion, Duan Gang, President and Research Fellow of the Yunnan Academy of Economics, said that China had already constructed a railway line connecting Kunming with Dali and that a line connecting Dali with Ruili on the border with Myanmar was under construction. He said that this segment should be ready by 2015.  He added  that from Ruili, the railway line would go up to Kyaukphyu in Myanmar from  where it will connect with Bangladesh.

6. In April 2009, Syed Abdul Hossain, Bangladesh’s Minister for Communications, had visited China. It was reported by the Bangladesh media that during his visit he had raised with his Chinese interlocutors a request earlier made by Bangladesh  for Chinese financial and technical assistance for the construction of a 103-km railway line connecting Dohazari in Chittagong with Gundum in Myanmar via Ramu in Cox’s Bazar. The Chinese response to this request is not known, but they are likely to jump on the opportunity and accept the Bangladesh request, if they have not already done so. According to the Bangladesh authorities, while the construction of a line connecting Dohazari with Gundum should pose no problem for the Chinese engineers, connecting Gundum with Yunnan would be more complex since tunnels will have to be constructed at some places.

7. While China has been projecting these projects as part of a project  initiated by the UNESCAP, its strategic significance for China cannot be underestimated. India’s lack of financial resources and a reservoir of high-grade engineering personnel capable of construction of major infrastructure projects of high quality in time is coming in the way of India being able to compete with China on equal terms.

8. This may please be read in continuation of my article of September 28,2010, titled "CHINA: India’s Strategic Strangulation" at
http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers41%5Cpaper4069.html  (18-10-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

Copyright © 2010 B. Raman – South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG).

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