The recently signed Joint General Scheme of Mohan–Boten Economic Cooperation Zone is the first cross-border economic cooperation zone that China has established in Laos and, for that matter, in the whole of Southeast Asia. The deal hints at the Asian giant’s goal to expand its economic ties with its southern neighbours.
Chinese money accounts for the overwhelming majority of investment in Cambodia’s anaemic energy sector, but while the government has been happy to take Beijing’s loans for the construction of hydroelectric plants, a study published last month found that such investment came with both ecological and economic consequences.
Hkawn San is one of about 5,000 people who were resettled by Chinese contractors from the catchment area behind the projected Myitsone Dam, which Myanmar President Thein Sein abruptly and unexpectedly cancelled in 2011, shortly after he took office. Like those in far too many other resettlement villages, Hkawn San is not happy.
“The house here has problems, we get barely enough food to survive, but we do not get enough money, so people have to go around trying to find day work,” she said, sitting in front of her new but already decaying house in Aung Myint Thar, one of the two resettlement villages located north of Myitkyina, the capital of Myanmar’s Kachin State.
The Mytsone Dam was meant to be one of the world’s largest, to be built at the confluence of the Mali Hka and the N’Mai Hka, the two streams that form the Irrawaddy, Myanmar’s most fabled river. The Irrawaddy Valley is considered to be the birthplace of Burmese civilization . It is now a bone of contention between Myanmar, with whom the cancellation was enormously popular, and China, which is seeking to restart construction.
In September 2011, Myanmar President Thein Sein announced that construction of China’s largest hydroelectric project in Southeast Asia — the $3.6 billion-plus Myitsone dam in northern Myanmar — would be suspended for the duration of his term.
This came as a shock to China, which had believed that Myanmar was securely within the Sinocentric orbit, if not quite a “client state.”
While initiatives by the Asian Development Bank, ASEAN, United States, Japan, France and the private sector aim to advance renewable energy within the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), coal-fired power plants are slated to become an increasingly larger share of the region’s electricity generating portfolio.
The streets of Pianma are lined with sawmills. They’re also lined with logs as big as cars: Teak, Rosewood, and Golden Camphor — all of them felled illegally across the border in Burma from old growth forests and brought to the Chinese side to be cut down into furniture.
FOLLOWING THE launch of its ambitious Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (Belt and Road) initiative in a big way, China followed it up with last month’s official inauguration of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which is now operational.
China is more closely involved in cross-border cooperation on hydropower and water management after the six countries that share the Mekong River signed a landmark agreement late last year.
While more needs to be done between these countries to resolve disputes and encourage transparency over dam building and shared water management, the agreement signals a greater willingness to discuss areas of discord that have soured relations in the region in the past.
During their meeting in in China’s southern province of Yunnan in November 2015, the foreign ministers of China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam launched the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism (LMCM), an initiative pitched at the November 2014 Summit Meeting between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.
The end of 2015 saw a series of major announcements and decisions regarding Myanmar’s latest special economic zone (SEZ) in Kyaukphyu township of Rakhine State. In late December, Myanmar’s government approved the demarcation of land for the SEZ and awarded tenders to develop the SEZ to a CITIC Group-led consortium.
Though it’s extremely early days, experts this week welcomed Cambodia’s membership to the nascent China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), saying it would provide much-needed diversity of funding for the nation’s infrastructure and connectivity needs.
Launched in Beijing last weekend, the multilateral development bank aims to support infrastructure growth in the Asia-Pacific region through the provision of loans, and supports China’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” initiative to boost trade and connectivity across the Eurasian landmass.