- Xi Jinping’s visit – and the billions in development and investment deals signed – opens the door to greater stability in the region
China and Myanmar have a long and complex history. But President Xi Jinping's just-ended two-day visit, his inaugural foreign trip of the year and the first to the country by a Chinese leader in 19 years, was aimed at taking ties to a new level of friendship and trust, with mutual benefit at the core. On the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations, Xi and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi signed 33 agreements shoring up key projects that are part of Beijing's flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
They agreed to hasten implementation of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, a giant infrastructure scheme worth billions of dollars, with agreements on railways linking southwestern China to the Indian Ocean, a deep-sea port in conflict-riven Rakhine state, a special economic zone on the border, and a new city project in the commercial capital of Yangon.
Xi wraps up Myanmar visit with string of infrastructure deals
Completion of the projects will mean faster and more reliable delivery of crucial energy supplies to China from the Middle East and Africa while increasing Chinese infrastructure and investment opportunities, and for Myanmar, there will be development and jobs.
That Rakhine features is significant; the state, which 700,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims fled from to neighbouring Bangladesh amid fighting with Myanmar's military in 2017, is a major reason China and Myanmar have of late been moving closer.
China was Myanmar's main finance and trade partner and provider of weapons during decades of junta rule and Western sanctions until 2010, when political and economic reforms to spur development were announced. Investment from Japan, the United States and South Korea, among others, began pouring in and Beijing's influence waned. But then came the clampdown in Rakhine, a backlash from the West, and a fresh resurgence in ties. With China now Myanmar's biggest investor and trading partner and source of tourists, and high-level visits of officials increasingly common, the friendship on show during Xi's visit bodes well for deeper and closer relations.
Myanmar's embracing of the BRI in 2018 was a significant contributor to better ties. That year, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly build the corridor. With closer ties and promised development comes the possibility of settling Myanmar's ethnic disputes to ensure stability, improving cross-border transport links and through its membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, boosting regional relations. By moving closer, there will be mutual benefit through greater development and prosperity.
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