Belt and Road is not the only game in town for Myanmar. Without doubt, the scheme is important and relevant; nonetheless, it is just part of the opportunities Myanmar has access to. The government, businesses and other stakeholders should act decisively to seize the opportunities, within and beyond the Belt and Road. 

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A crane loading from container ships at a port terminal in Laem Chabang, Thailand. Lao’s Savan-Seno Special Economic Zone and Thailand’s Laem Chabang are aggressively positioning the countries as a core part of the BRI – they see competition from Japanese-led Thilawa and probably Kyaukphyu as well. Photo – Shutterstock

In the past, China has focused so much to become the world’s manufacturing centre. Now, the Chinese leadership has realised that there is a need to rebalance global demand and economic growth, as the country preside over a series of challenges, including over-capacity and rising costs.

As a result, the Chinese leadership sees the need for aggressive reform on the supply side, transforming their renminbi as a regional settlement currency, and securing access to energy and food.

Beijing believes that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will not only address those challenges, it will also open the door to new opportunities for China.

During the recent Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation attended by 29 heads of state, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Beijing has communicated the five basic principles of Belt and Road: peace, prosperity, opening up, innovation and people-to-people connectivity.

Over US$128 billion was committed by China for development projects along the BRI corridor. There are some social initiatives such as 100 “Happy Home” projects, projects in food aid, 100 “Health Rehab” projects with over $2 billion committed. Myanmar’s current poverty level is sufficient to qualify us to ask for those aid initiatives. The key, for us, is to “ask first”.

Myanmar and China signed five agreements during the summit, including the BRI framework on cooperation and border trade.

Myanmar plays strategic role in both the land and maritime part of China’s scheme. It is important that Myanmar should push for proactive policies for BRI cooperation, especially when other countries are already gearing up to reap the benefits of the BRI.

The BRI high-speed rail network leaves India and Myanmar behind. Some Chinese scholars see India’s Narendra Modi, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and our famous Daw Suu as uncertainties for the BRI. But there is no need to be wary of Myanmar – I am not sure why the railway network avoids us.

Thailand and Laos see the BRI as a great opportunity for them to connect with China, Europe and the rest of ASEAN; they are exploring ways to connect the scheme with Mekong and ASEAN corridors. Lao’s Savan-Seno Special Economic Zone and Thailand’s Laem Chabang are aggressively positioning the countries as a core part of the BRI – they see competition from Japanese-led Thilawa and probably Kyaukphyu as well.

For us, Myanmar, the game is bigger than the Belt and Road: New Delhi’s “Act East” policy, Tokyo’s “Japan plus one” strategy and ASEAN per se offer plenty of opportunities for Myanmar. But we should bear in mind that those opportunities do not wait.

Myanmar’s $60-billion economy can leapfrog into hundreds of billions if we seize the opportunity which the outside world is offering to us. Metaphorically, Myanmar will be striking the goldmines if our government work together with the private sector to tap the opportunities made available through regional cooperation.

As such, I personally call for the government, private sector, institutions and communities to establish a Belt and Road centre, an India “Act East” centre and other similar think tanks as soon as possible to maximise the benefit emerging from regional cooperation while minimising the risks.

At the end of the day, our leaders should be better informed, regarding the choices and strategies we have, in order to bring sustainable benefits to the people of Myanmar across the country.

 

Source: MYANMAR TIMES (By Ken Tun   |   Monday, 03 July 2017)