Belt and Road silky smooth for Myanmar


Tuesday, 13 Aug 2019

Photo waiting

Waiting shores: South-East Asian workers constructing a pier for a project, a region that is betting on the Belt and Road Initiative, with Chinese-built infrastructure that could pay off with jobs and prosperity. — Bloomberg

YANGON: The National League for Democracy was forged in an uprising against one-party rule.

Its activists spent years in jail under Myanmar’s military junta.

But since taking power three years ago, the party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has found an unlikely ally – the China government.

The friendship has blossomed in high-level exchanges between Suu Kyi and Chinese leaders, but also in interactions between party members on visits that mix tours of container terminals or education projects with boozy dinners and shopping trips.

The trips are part of a push to make Myanmar a vital stop on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative, offering to build deep-sea ports, hydropower dams and economic zones in a country desperate for investment.

Reuters interviewed more than 20 party members and lawmakers who have visited China on expenses-paid trips, through which Beijing hopes to overcome historic distrust and fears among many in Myanmar of becoming indebted to their much larger neighbour.

In the past it was only a relationship between two governments – (China) did business with the military generals and Myanmar people didn’t have good feelings towards them, ” said Aung Shin, who edits the party’s newspaper.

The invites have flowed since Myanmar’s relations with Western countries soured following their sharp criticism of a 2017 army crackdown in its north-western Rakhine state from which 700, 000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh.

China lent its neighbour support at the United Nations Security Council, when the West was pushing for a stronger response to allegations of killings, mass rape and arson by Myanmar forces.

NLD stalwarts such as Aung Shin, a former political prisoner, have welcomed China’s hospitality.

They want to show that they are not like before, so they invited us and showed us, ” said Aung Shin, who has been on at least 10 junkets to China since 2013.

Some say they have also been impressed with the ability of China’s one-party system to drive through development projects.

Many countries extend invitations to politicians of other nations to deepen alliances, but China’s “soft power” efforts in Myanmar have been comprehensive.

The NLD has sent at least 20 delegations to China since 2016, said party spokesman Myo Nyunt.

China has also extended invites to the military-aligned opposition and other parties, as well as civil society and the media.

In interviews, NLD members said China uses the visits to showcase its state-led approach to building infrastructure.

Helen Aye Kyaw visited China for the first time in June as a member of an NLD women’s group at the invitation of the All-China Women’s Federation, touring a school for Communist Party cadres to study efforts to eliminate rural poverty.

In a written response to Reuters’ questions about the trips, China’s foreign ministry said engagement with Myanmar political parties, including the NLD, was conducted on a basis of equality and “non-interference in each other’s internal affairs”.

Since the Rohingya crisis, Suu Kyi has visited few countries that joined calls for action against Myanmar for the alleged abuses against the Rohingya – which Myanmar denies.

NLD officials say Suu Kyi’s government is putting Myanmar’s interests first in negotiations with China.

Interviews with NLD figures who have taken part in such visits give a flavour of how China has sought to win new friends among Myanmar’s emerging political class.

Yangon regional lawmakers visited China in September 2018, where they met CCCC representatives and visited its Yangshan port near Shanghai, according to two participants and Facebook posts.

The visit would not prevent her from voicing her concerns over the New Yangon City project, she said, but had given her pause for thought about China’s development model, drawing a contrast with the protests that often greet projects at home.

Their country developed very fast within 20 years and even the roads became very good.

Is that because of their one-party political system?” she said.

In their country, if they do a project, no one opposes.” — Reuters

Source: The Star “Belt and Road silky smooth for Myanmar”

Note: This is The Star’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

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