Myanmar talks Belt and Road with China, restarts regional meetings
Conflict Between Military, Armed Resistance Poses Hurdle To Chinese Investment Plans
BANGKOK/YANGON -- Foreign ministers from China and five Mekong Delta countries discussed economic cooperation Monday in the Myanmar tourist destination of Bagan, in the first multinational ministerial meeting held in the country since last year's military takeover.
The meeting under the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation framework was attended by Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, who also serves as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' special envoy to Naypyitaw. His counterparts from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam participated as well.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met separately on Sunday with Wunna Maung Lwin, Myanmar's foreign minister. The two sides agreed to accelerate work on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor -- infrastructure projects linked to Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative -- and to proceed on connecting their respective power grids.
Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for Myanmar's military government, told reporters Friday that the gathering was a recognition of Myanmar's sovereignty and its government.
China led the formation of the Lancang-Mekong framework in 2015 to discuss cooperation in infrastructure and other areas. It is named after Southeast Asia's longest river, the Chinese portion of which is called the Lancang.
Wang spoke with Sokhonn about the political situation in Myanmar. Beijing expects to work with ASEAN to encourage political reconciliation within the framework of Myanmar's constitution and laws, along with a restart of the country's democratic transition, Wang said. China also expects the 10-nation Southeast Asian bloc to abide by its principle of noninterference in members' internal affairs, he said.
Naypyitaw plans to build a railway from Shan State, on the border with China, to Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city. Military authorities last month began soliciting public comment on the environmental impact of the project, which is estimated to cost $8.9 billion.
Chinese state-run media reported in May that work on a railway between the Yunnan Province cities of Dali and Ruili, the latter of which borders Myanmar, cleared a major hurdle with the completion of boring work on six tunnels. The plan is to eventually extend this route to Myanmar's western coast along the Indian Ocean, linking it to a port undergoing China-led development.
But conflict between Myanmar's military and armed pro-democratic forces is keeping China from launching any big projects. Sunday's bilateral meeting included little mention of large-scale infrastructure.
Talks continue, but Beijing is wary as the security environment worsens and sentiment toward China sours, said Nan Lwin at the Institute for Strategy and Policy in Myanmar.
The Letpadaung copper mine in Myanmar's Sagaing region, operated by a subsidiary of China's Wanbao Mining, has seen repeated attacks by armed resistance groups against Myanmar government forces providing security at the site. Wanbao issued a statement last month condemning the attacks, saying they threaten the safety of employees.