MYANMAR will miss out on the benefits of participation in China’s One Belt, One Road trade initiative if it doesn’t get moving now with preparations, a forum was told.
Aye Lwin, a member of the Myanmar Investment Commission and the ruling National League for Democracy party’s Central Economic Committee, said Myanmar must cooperate with its neighbouring countries, such as Thailand in addition to China, to realise the economic potential brought by the initiative.
“Now it is time to intensify our efforts and strengthen our plans. Whether we will gain or lose [from the initiative], it depends on ourselves,” he told the “OBOR: Positive or Negative for Myanmar?” forum at the weekend.
He said Myanmar needed to know its strengths and shortcomings to ensure that it would benefit from China’s new Silk Road strategy. He stressed the importance of policy coordination.
Aye Lwin said Myanmar would benefit from infrastructure improvements arising from the Chinese-led strategy. However, he also stressed the need to take measures to curb illegal trade with the neighbouring countries. Better connectivity and law enforcement would move Myanmar forward, he said.
Khin Maung Nyo, founder and vice president of the Myanmar Economics Association, said more cooperation with China was necessary to ensure economic benefits for the nation.
“China is the top investor in Myanmar, and we owe a lot to that country. We still have a large sum of foreign debt to settle, and approximately 44 per cent of that comes from China,” he said. “We need to take that into serious consideration.”
“In the past, we used to look cautiously at China. But I have noticed that China has shown respect towards the sovereignty of other nations to a degree more than ever before.”
Zaw Phay Win, an economic adviser to the Union Parliament, said Myanmar could not avoid OBOR, as it played a vital role in China’s Silk Road and maritime trade expansion plans.
“Good and bad things can arise alongside each other in every single strategy, but Myanmar must try to ensure to yield positive results,” Zaw Phay Win said.
Aye Maung, a member of the Lower House of parliament, holds similar views.
“It is time to decide whether we will go forward together or not. I believe we should,” he said.
He urged government and business leaders to take advantage of Myanmar’s strategic location, facing the Indian Ocean. He suggested that more effort be made to further integrate the country into regional economic corridors.
He considers Kyauk Phyu to be one of the most important deep-sea ports in Southeast Asia. The port could become a transit trade centre for Asia’s largest economies, with Myanmar benefiting from land lease costs and abundant energy sources.
Urgent need for road links
“We urgently need to build roads connecting Kyauk Phyu and Yunnan. We need to set up good policies and our SEZ (special economic zone) law need to be strengthened,” Aye Maung said.
Jo Daniels, managing partner of Baker & McKenzie Myanmar, said in an earlier interview that Myanmar could benefit from the OBOR strategy to some extent.
She said it could provide funding and expertise in terms of construction of major infrastructure assets.
“It can be a source of funding which can actually see projects involving local Myanmar companies and consortiums to develop much-needed roads, railways and port infrastructure,” she said.
“The initiative could have a significant impact on Myanmar’s port industry, if it is approached in the right way.”
Daniels believes the development of deep-sea ports would play the most important role in Myanmar’s future.
“If you look at the forecast in terms of the growth of ports in Myanmar, it is really significant. And that type of volume essentially will need a deep sea port,” she said.
“I would recommend building a new deep-sea port near Yangon because the current ports are constrained in terms of size. It cannot grow big enough to actually cover all of the coverage.
“An important thing to take into account is that Myanmar could actually be a hub into China and Thailand. If it adopts that type of approach, then the volumes are going to be even higher than ever.”