Belt and Road project tenders open to non-chinese: commerce minister
THE commerce minister said international companies will be invited to take part in Belt and Road-related projects and that the tender process will be transparent.
As fractures between the international community, especially Western countries, and Myanmar widen, Myanmar should tap into the resources and connectivity offered by China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), analysts said. But Myanmar’s participation must be based on responsible investments and take into account the risks.
This month, U Soe Win, Minister for Planning and Finance, signed an Memorandum of Understanding regarding the China-myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), a key component of the BRI. U Tun Tun Naing, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Planning and Finance, told The Myanmar Times that the government signed an “umbrella agreement”, while agreements on individual projects will have to be negotiated by the ministries from the two sides in the future.
CMEC is a key component in BRI routes, covering a highway project from China’s Yunnan Province to Kyaukphyu via Mandalay, as well as for the Mandalay-yangon-mawlamyine route. Beijing is keen to speed up implementation of the proposed highways but Myanmar has difficulties to catch up with such expectations, given the country’s slowing economy and lacklustre investments from Europe and the US.
Political analyst U Ye Htut, a former MP from Thibaw constituency, said that Nay Pyi Taw signed up to the deal quickly so as to secure Chinese investments as well as Beijing’s support for the peace process.
“China’s role in Rakhine affairs, peace matters and investment is important for us. As we take part in the BRI development, we accept that both sides will be fairly benefited. We will share the [fruits of] Chinese development,” U Than Myint, commerce minister, said.
As Myanmar risks being isolated by Western countries owing to the humanitarian crisis in northern Rakhine, the country cannot refuse to be part of the BRI framework. Joining the scheme is politically inevitable, analysts said.
The CMEC deal signed covers bilateral collaboration in 15 sectors, including infrastructural development, investment, energy, agriculture, tourism and education. International investors and development agencies across the world will be invited to take part in the implementation process. While loans will be taken from China, call for tenders will invite international firms, according to U Than Myint. Therefore, investments will not only come from mainland China, but also Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and South Korea. It will be a level-playing field and the tender process will be transparent, he said.
“As Myanmar cannot avoid to join the scheme, careful analysis must be done and plans which benefit the country should be implemented. We need to make an effort so our people can secure jobs and expertise and technological know-how could be improved,” U Zaw Win Pe, economic advisor of Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, said.
Sri Lanka and Kyaukphyu “It is almost certain that it will be advantageous for the Chinese. We should not be paying for those expenditure from our pockets, we must also know how to negotiate with them,” U Ye Tun added.
In June, Sean Turnell, economic adviser to State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, criticised the deep-sea port project. The precedent set by the $1 billion Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, where the government in Colombo borrowed heavily to construct the port, but couldn’t repay the loans and had to give China a 99-year lease for debt relief, is “the example that stands out, that has been really taken notice of in Myanmar,” according to the adviser.
However, U Ye Tun said Kyaukphyu’s case is different and can reap benefits for both countries. The infrastructure, including the port, will make it easier for Myanmar to be a logistics hub as well as to revive its tourism industry.
With more connectivity, it will make Myanmar more competitive in the import and export of good, according to U Zaw Pe Win. Meanwhile, better road conditions will allow more mobility of people.
Domestic analysis said Myanmar should make use of BRI to attract manufacturers to the country, and beware that loans in China carry a higher interest rate than others. Some expressed anxiety over Myanmar losing part of its sovereignty if the country couldn’t repay its Chinese debts.