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China's Infrastructure Plans for Burma
The extent to which China is taking command of Burma's infrastructure has been highlighted by the recent announcement that China Communications Construction, a Chinese company, is investing US $100 million in the construction of an airport near Naypyidaw, the new capital built by Burma's ruling junta in 2004.
China has dramatically stepped up its investment in Burma in recent years and is increasingly turning to major infrastructure projects aimed at improving access to the country's natural resources, including not just the airport but railways, roads and natural gas pipelines. Most of the projects appear to be devoted to transferring Burma's plentiful natural resources, which include, among others, natural gas, timber, copper, coal, precious stones, marine products and petroleum, to China.
Certainly, the country's infrastructure is in a woeful state. Of its 27,000 km of roadways, according to the CIA Factbook, only 3,200 km are paved, ranking it 101st in the world. Of its 76 airfields, only 39 have paved runways, China Communications Construction signed the contract to work on the airport project on Dec. 15, according to the conglomerate's website. China's Ex-Im Bank is to offer preferential loan to the Burmese government via Burma's Department of Civil Aviation according to the construction company's website.
Work on the airport project actually began in 2009, when Asia World, one of Burma's largest conglomerates, won a $250 million contract to build the new airport on the site of a disused airport in Ela Township, according to Burmese business sources.
Weekly Eleven News, a Rangoon-based news journal, reported at the end of last year that the airport's domestic and international terminals and runways are still under construction and are expected to be completed sometime in early 2011.
"This project will significantly increase the internationalization of the Myanmar [Burmese] capital of Naypyidaw and increase CCC's influence in Myanmar," the company said.
Among the more ambitious projects under discussion is a 1,920 kilometer rail link between Kunming, the capital of China's Yunnan Province, and Burma's main commercial city and former capital, Rangoon.
According to business sources, the railway line may be extended even further, to Tavoy in southern Burma's Tenasserim Division, where Thai investors are planning a massive port development project.
Work on the railway line, which is part of a grand project to link China and its Southeast Asian neighbors, is reportedly set to begin construction this year.
There is also a plan to rebuild the Stilwell Road, constructed during the Second World War to enable the Allied Powers to assist China in its resistance to Japan's occupying Imperial Army.
According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, the road, which stretches from the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina to Pangsau near the Indian border, will be rebuilt by the Yunnan Construction Engineering Company in a joint venture with Burma's Yuzana Group under an agreement reached on Nov. 22 last year.
Last June, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao traveled to Burma to further promote already strong economic ties between the two countries. According to official statistics, China invested an estimated $8.2 billion in the Burmese economy in the first five months of last year, including $5 billion in the hydro-power sector.
One of the largest joint projects between China and Burma is a pipeline that will carry natural gas to Kunming from Burmese offshore fields in the Bay of Bengal. China also hopes to construct a railway line along this route, linking Kunming and the Arakan State deep-sea port of Kyaukpyu.
Despite rumors that Burma's military leaders are wary of growing too dependent on Beijing for economic support, there are no signs that they are scaling back on plans to increase cooperation.
Following a state visit to China by junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe last September, the Chinese government agreed to provide a 30 billion yuan ($4.5 billion) interest-free loan to the regime.
Reprinted from The Irrawaddy, with which Asia Sentinel has a content-sharing agreement