Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Port Agreement Amidst Ongoing Armed Conflict

**Myanmar Spring Chronicle – December 27 by MoeMaKa Media

*Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Port Agreement Amidst Ongoing Armed Conflict*

In a surprising turn of events, the signing ceremony for an addendum to the Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Port Project between China and Myanmar unfolded against the backdrop of intense armed clashes in Rakhine State and northern Shan State. The agreement, perceived by many as a deal with the military council, is believed to signal China’s intervention in peace talks and a cessation of military and political support for the three northern alliances.

The Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, deep sea port, and housing projects received parliamentary approval before the end of the U Thein Sein government’s term in 2015. Initial studies commenced as early as 2009 during the SLORC junta regime, aligning with another China-related project, the Myitsone Project, signed that same year. Political analysts deduced that China’s acceptance of these projects was contingent on compromises with the Myanmar military government. When the Kyaukphyu project underwent renegotiation under the NLD government, the investment for the deep sea port was reduced from $7.5 billion to $1.5 billion, following the recommendation of NLD government’s economic advisor Sean Turnell. Turnell’s concern over the initial proposed investment being a potential “debt trap” led to the reduction.

Details regarding the amendments made in the addendum to the previous contract remain unclear.

The Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Port and Special Economic Zone project aims to provide China with a seaport outlet through Yunnan, facilitating the export of Chinese goods to South Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, as well as Europe and Africa. U Aung Naing Oo, Chairman of the Special Economic Zone of the Military Council, stated that the project, allegedly benefitting Myanmar 30 percent and China 70 percent, would generate employment opportunities for Kyaukphyu residents. However, skepticism persists among local residents who question the tangible benefits.

Despite the completion of the oil and natural gas pipeline from Kyaukphyu to China’s Yunnan Province preceding the deep sea port project, employment opportunities have not seen a significant upswing. The local populace contends that only Chinese and selected local subcontractors have reaped the benefits, with the majority witnessing no substantial gains.

At the time of the addendum signing, fierce military battles raged on. The AA armed group, gaining strength in recent years, had seized border police stations in Rakhine State and strategic camps in Paletwa Region. The military council, amidst blocking the entirety of Rakhine State except for air travel, signed the project based in the conflicted region. The signing occurred at a juncture when internal armed conflicts were at their peak between the military council and the AA.

The Chinese government’s decision to enter into a contract with the Myanmar military council during such volatile circumstances raises eyebrows, implying an opportunistic economic move amid the chaos. The Chinese government’s dual engagement with conflicting groups suggests a pragmatic approach irrespective of the power dynamics, with economic interests seemingly taking precedence in the complex landscape of Myanmar’s internal strife.