Bypass Malacca Strait–China’s BRI Strategic Connections to the West


Stratfor’s article “Casting an Eye on the Belt and Road Initiative” on August 28 describes China’s BRI as China’s worldwide ambitious initiative. If China were able to satisfy the needs for construction of infrastructures all over the world, it would certainly be an ambitious initiative to make China world leader. However, China is not rich enough to do so; therefore, it invites other countries to join it in the construction.

As the infrastructures may facilitate other countries’ investment and expansion of market in receiving countries, Japan and EU are interested but still have doubt whether joining China will help China become a world hegemon. Therefore, most of them would rather join the US to demonize China by description of China’s efforts as setting up “debt traps” to hurt receiving countries.

Stratfor’s article however, points out China’s efforts to avoid its BRI projects from becoming debt traps through renegotiation to reduce the debt burdens on receiving countries. However, it fails to see the strategic importance of BRI for China.

First, bypass the Malacca Strait. BRI first of all is aimed at China’s connections to its markets and sources of resources to its West. The old Silk Road is not so important as it’s on land while most trade now is carried out by shipping, which is much less expansive and has much greater volume.

Through development of infrastructures of roads, railways and pipelines, the freight costs have reduced but are still much higher than marine shipping. The freight volume is limited. China has developed rail links with Europe through Central Asia and Russia and would keep such links even if the rail freight is not cost effective enough as they may provide alternatives if marine shipping is cut off by powerful US navy.

Even if China has a relatively strong navy to protect its shipping through the Indian Ocean, the Malacca Strait will be a bottleneck difficult to pass if it is blocked by US military stationed in Singapore.

That is why Hambantota Port is so important. If China can bypass the strait, the port will become the major transport hub as important as Singapore for China’s shipping to its west now.

That is why China is building a railway through Laos to Thailand while Thailand is building a railway linking the railway in Laos to Malaysia. Malaysia has to build its East Coast Rail Link to its port on its western coast. Such a pan-Asia railway will enable not only China but also quite a few Indochinese countries to bypass the Malacca Strait.

The article mentioned the reduction of cost by China for the construction of the East Coast Rail Link though I have mentioned that as China is building a port at Kyaukpyu, Myanmar and the establishment of China-Myanmar Economic Corridor will make the construction of a railway linking Kyaukpyu and China possible. That will give China a much better shortcut to the Indian Ocean without going through the Malacca.

A pipeline from Pyaukpyu to China has already been built and in operation for more than 3 years as a shortcut for shipping of oil to China.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Stratfor’s article, full text of which can be viewed at https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/casting-eye-belt-and-road-initiative-china-infrastructure.


Lies, Cover-up Cannot Deny Success of China’s Belt and Road


China’s investment in Asia often has great risks due to political instability in the countries it invests in. Myanmar’s suspension of the Myitsone dam project and Malaysia’s scrapping of the east Malaysia railway project are typical examples. However, in spite of the political instability, China has been successful in carrying out its Belt and Road initiative in Asia.

The Myitsone dam project started long before the beginning of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative. It was planned to sell 90% of the electricity the project generates to China’s Yunan Province, but now Yunan has more than enough supply of electricity due to China’s rapid development of infrastructures.

However, the project has now become a Belt and Road one as it will provide power for Myanmar’s industrial development and thus facilitate removal of China’s labor-intensive industries to Myanmar where labor cost is very low.

Anyway, it is not a key project for Belt and Road that mainly aims at providing connection to the outside world for China.

For connection to the areas to the west of China, there may be three routes in which the railway link to Malaysia’s west coast to bypass the Malacca Strait is the last choice due to its long land route across three countries.

The best choice is a canal through Kra Isthmus to bypass Malocca Strait but with the greatest risk. The canal will benefit not only China but also other nations that use Malacca Strait as their major trade route to the west. If China funds the construction of the canal, it has to own the canal to obtain return to its investment but Thailand’s political instability make such huge investment very risky. Moreover, the canal may be nationalized like Panama Canal and Suez Canal.

The best choice seems to be a railway through Myanmar to the port at Kyaukpyu at the Bay of Bengal. China has already built oil and gas pipelines from Kyaukpyu to China’s Ruili and according to The Medi Telegraph’s report “China to develop deep sea port in Myanmar”, China has signed an agreement with Myanmar on the construction of a deep sea port at Kyaukphu with two deep berths.

It is obvious that the port will not be fully useful if it is only used for oil and gas freight to the pipelines. There must be a railway between Ruili and Kyaukpyu, which will not be such a huge investment as Kra Canal but will greatly benefit China and Myanmar. Politically, it is simple as it goes through only one country.

The railway and the port will make the port of Hambantota China is building in Sri Lanka an important transport hub for Chinese shipping to the Middle East, Europe and Africa. From that we see Chinese leaders’ vision in developing the port of Hambantota.

The ports in Sri Lanka and Myanmar under construction, the pipelines completed and the railway if built will be China’s successful 21st maritime Silk Road.

Western media simply ignored the pipelines and port at Kyaukpyu and spread the lies that China’s purchase of 80% shares in the company that has the lease of the port of Hambantota was forced asset-loan swap. They believe by such cover-up and lies they can convince readers that China’s Belt and Road is a failure.

Western and Japanese statesmen are not so stupid as to be deceived by the cover-up and lies. They now are interested in joining China’s Belt and Road or have other ways to invest in infrastructures in Asia and Africa that will ultimately benefit China in providing infrastructures and expanding market for China.

Even the United States has initiated a “Prosper Africa” strategy to contend with China in building infrastructures in Africa. But the United States is hard up. The dispute between President Trump and Congress over a small sum of $5 billion for the construction of a border wall should result in government shutdown! Poor America! Where will it obtain funds to build infrastructures in Africa? It even lacks funds to fix and rebuild its 50,000 bridges in poor conditions!

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on The Medi Telegraph’s report, full text of which can be viewed at http://www.themeditelegraph.com/en/shipping/2018/11/12/china-develop-deep-sea-port-myanmar-ebet6fyKi9LXtA6q16KIXO/index.html.