Implications of Muse-Mandalay Railway

N.B Chyoi / May 30, 2021

MOU signing ceremony for feasibility study for Muse-Mandalay Railway in 2018

Two ethnic Kachin dominated villages Hona and Man Aung in the eastern Kutkai (Shan State) have been deeply concerned over the loss of the ancestral land as the proposed $9 billion-dollar Muse-Mandalay Railway (431 Kilometres) will pass through their villages.

Similar concern are being faced by the residents of townships enroute this track – Patheingyi, Pyin Oo lwin, Nanchang, Toshiba, Lashing, Therein, Kutkai and Nam Hpat Kar. Burma Army has already issued directives to the villagers to co-operate with Chinese Company and Burma Railway officials involved in the ground work.

The compensation would be as per government assessment only and there has been no assurance of rehabilitation and livelihood alternatives to the effected lot. The project will cause irreversible environmental degradation, affecting the supply of water creating a drought like situation. The ethnic groups like Kachin Democratic Army (KDA) has been demanding adequate compensation and alternative livelihood arrangements for the effected people but it has been ignored. This project will also impact the tax or revenue generation of the EAOs operating or having domination in the area.

It is a time to do introspection over the Chinese projects being implemented in the Northern and Central Burma especially in Kachin, Shan and Mandalay. Also to find out whether the projects are ultimately going to strengthen Burma or China just wants to use it as a corridor or expand its network to South Asia. China has already covered the western front and made access into bay of Bengal by developing Kyaukphyu dry port, SEZ, oil and gas pipeline and similar activities have been on Thai border.

Muse Mandalay Railway is basically a extension of Kunming-Dali-Ruili express railway (Dali-Ruili is being constructed) but Muse Mandalay section and its further extension to Kyaukphyu & Yangon will ultimately give complete access to China. The comparison of quantum of import-export between China-Burma gives a fair idea that why China is pushing this project. China’s interest are beyond Burma but China wants Burma to remain under debt trap, and it is reason China wants Burma to share the cost of the project despite the fact that Burma is not going to gain much.

This railway projects will ultimately hit the transport & logistics sector, work force associated with it directly or indirectly and finally elimination of the marginal or small traders as this Freight Corridor would be state controlled. It will be more mechanized in operations that will hit the manual labor force. China will remain at the gaining end as it will enable China to avoid going around the Strait of Mallaca for import or export whereas Burma will be at the receiving end only. Any project which comes at the cost of displacement of its countrymen, loss of land and damage to natural resources will never benefit.

The NGOs, CSOs and watch groups should raise concerns at the international platform as well as within Burma to stop such projects as it is purely a business project being built by a big economy at the cost of under developed nation already reeling under political instability.

N.B Chyoi is a Kachin lawyer and geopolitical analyst focusing especially on Burma, India and China.

The opinion expressed here is the author’s own, and does not represent the editorial policy of The Kachin Post.