By Kyaw Ye Lynn
YANGON, Myanmar (AA) – Myanmar and China on Saturday signed scores of deals, most of them set to spur China’s landmark Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious project to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks to boost trade and stimulate economic growth.
On his first visit to China’s Southeast Asian neighbor, President Xi Jinping met Myanmar President Win Myint, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, and military chief Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing.
Xi and Suu Kyi witnessed the signing of 33 agreements, protocols, and memoranda of understanding of infrastructure projects.
The pacts include a concessional agreement for a deep sea port project in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, giving Beijing strategic access to the Indian Ocean and cutting its reliance on maritime trade on the narrow and congested Strait of Malacca between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.
China also handed Myanmar a feasibility study for a high-speed railroad line connecting Kumin, China to the Rakhine port.
The agreements also include developing a special economic zone along the two countries’ shared border and a new city next to Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
Most of the deals are to strengthen the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, a plan to connect China's Yunnan Province with Myanmar's second-largest city Mandalay, leading to Yangon and Kyaukpyu in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. It is widely seen as a strategic economic corridor under the Belt and Road Initiative.
But the visit did not address a controversial mega-dam project in Myanmar’s northern Kachin state which was suspended in 2011 by the previous government amid public criticism.
Hundreds of activists on Saturday marched to China’s Embassy in Yangon and handed an open letter urging Xi to permanently cancel the dam project at the confluence of the country’s longest Ayeyawaddy River.