N.B Chyoi / February 21, 2022
China has been very aggressive as far as development of Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Port Project (KDSPP) in Burma’s Rakhine State is concerned. This includes a deep sea port and exclusive economic zone followed by Muse-Kyaukphyu Rail line.
Despite having security concerns regarding its own manpower due to prevailing ethnic unrest in Rakhine in the last four decades and growing anti-Chinese sentiments post-coup in Burma, China has progressed well on the front after the coup due to obvious reasons.
This port not only gives direct access to the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Bangladesh but also a value addition to the string of pearls and emerging threat to India built Sittwe port (2016) which lies approx 105 kilometres away. It will also open a new transport and transit corridor for China bypassing congested Malacca strait ultimately benefiting China.
The property rates in the neighbouring townships of KDSPP have gone up considerably. Marriages of Convenience between local women and Chinese have registered a jump and this will enable them to get the land rights as well. People in Rakhine are poor and depend mainly upon fisheries or other sea harvest. Due to its coastal state, Rakhine has its own merits and demerits. Infrastructure and agriculture remained poor so it’s economy.
China has tied up with local NGOs like Dr. Saw Mra Aung Foundation and infuses funds through Yunnan Aid in the name of humanitarian aid but such NGOs basically prepare the ground for big investment projects. These NGOs mingle with the local diaspora especially who are economically weak and easy to be brainwashed. They build new villages, schools, toilets, health centres for the villages to be displaced and acquire thousands hectares of land owned by them instead. As a result thousands of fishermen in Rakhine have lost their resources & regular source of income as their entry into water has been denied.
People of Rakhine are brave and their history is evident to that. They have been struggling for the independence of Rakhine since decades. Till now they have been fighting against Burmese de facto government. but now there is another player China that needs to be countered. If not checked, China will change the demographic profile of Rakhine in the next 10 years. Acquiring Hambantota Port in Srilanka, Port in Mombasa and Railway in Kenya by the Chinese shows the effectiveness of well designed long debt traps.
Why do people of Rakhine, especially student community who are well aware of the implications of debt trap, have been silent or they feel they have conceded? Kyaukphyu will have the same fate as Hambantota or Mombasa Port or Kenyan Railway if not checked now. People of Rakhine should seek equal participation and revenue sharing in KDSPP. Cultural identity should remain intact and never be exchanged for economic gains.
N.B Chyoi is a Kachin lawyer and geopolitical analyst focusing especially on Burma, China and India.
The opinion expressed here is the author’s own, and does not represent the editorial policy of The Kachin Post.