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China, Myanmar ink 33 deals to accelerate BRI as Xi, Suu Kyi meet despite Rohingya backlash

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NAY PYI TAW: China and Myanmar on Saturday inked 33 deals aimed at speeding up key infrastructure projects to provide Beijing a stepping stone to the Indian Ocean after a meeting between President Xi Jinping and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, as the Communist nation ramped up support to cement its hold over the Southeast Asian country under fire for its treatment of Rohingya Muslims.
Holding talks with Xi on the final day of his two-day visit, Suu Kyi slammed the western countries for criticising Myanmar over the handling of the Rohingya issue.
Over 7.3 lakh Rohingya Muslims fled to neighbouring Bangladesh alleging attacks by the Myanmar army, triggering a global refugee crisis.
Xi and Suu Kyi signed 33 agreements, covering areas such as politics, trade, investment and people-to-people communications, shoring up mammoth projects that are part of the flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s vision of new trade routes described as a “21st century silk road”.
Myanmar would like to promote the building of the Myanmar-China Economic Corridor, and enhance cooperation in transport, energy, production capacity, humanitarian and cultural exchanges, border areas and regional affairs, Suu Kyi told Xi during the talks.
Some countries intend to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries with such excuses as human rights, ethnicities and religions, and Myanmar will never accept such interference, she said.
Suu Kyi said Myanmar hoped China would continue to maintain justice for middle and small countries including Myanmar, state-run China Daily reported.
The main focus of the agreements signed after the talks between the two leaders appeared to be on the implementation of the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) which is akin to the $60 billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under which China looks to access Pakistan’s Gwadar port in the Arabian sea.
CMEC is also a giant connectivity project linking the landlocked southwestern China to the Indian Ocean.
Details on agreements reached over CMEC were sketchy but they reportedly included a concession and shareholders agreement on the $1.3 billion Kyaukhphyu deep-sea port and economic zone.
Kyaukhphyu projects concern India as they provides a stepping stone for China to the Indian Ocean.
Besides Gwadar, China also acquired the Hambantota port raising concerns over the theory of “String Pearls” to encircle India by Beijing.
There was also a letter of intent for “new urban development” in Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon and feasibility studies for rail links.
China, which for decades has maintained close ties with the Myanmar military even when Suu Kyi was incarcerated for years, has again become an important ally to fend off global isolation of Nay Pyi Taw in the wake of the Rohingya crisis.
In his talks with Suu Kyi, Xi said the two countries should speed up connecting development strategies.
Conspicuously missing from his talks was the Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (BCIM) corridor which China in the past vigorously proposed but apparently dropped it over India’s lukewarm support.
India has been severely critical of the BRI as CPEC which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is its flagship project.
Suspicion grows over Beijing’s influence
Widespread suspicion of Beijing’s influence in the country persists among those who are sceptical the economic benefits will trickle down to the masses and of ties to rebel groups fighting the state in border areas.
“They believe that China has been taking advantage,” said Thu Wai, leader of the Democratic Party, one of the 17 political parties who came to Naypyidaw as part of the visit.
The lack of transparency surrounding the 33 deals will lead to a “backlash” as mistrust grows, said political analyst Khin Zaw Win.
That anger was on display in Yangon, where dozens of protesters rallied against any reinstatement of a controversial Chinese-backed mega-dam.
They held signs calling for “termination” of the $3.6 billion Myitsone project, which was not mentioned in the signed deals.
“The Chinese president comes with his interest in Myanmar – but it is not for our sake,” said organiser Aung Soe.
The 6,000 megawatt dam project was suspended in 2011 in the face of nationwide condemnation.
It is believed to have been a personal affront to Xi, who signed the deal with Myanmar’s then-military junta as vice president in 2009.



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