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The ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by the Chinese government provides an important opportunity to promote the global implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This article, using Myanmar as a country case study as it is strongly committed to both the BRI and the 2030 Agenda, aims to paint a nuanced picture of how the BRI could benefit Myanmar's sustainable development. After providing an overview of Myanmar's recent development context, the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP), and the progress of China-Myanmar cooperation under the BRI, it argues that there are both big opportunities and huge challenges in tapping the potential of the BRI's development dividends for Myanmar. The article proposes that China and Myanmar should make joint efforts in terms of mainstreaming conflict-sensitive approaches, increasing the confidence of Myanmar's public in Chinese investment, encouraging responsible investment, and diversifying financing options.
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IDS Bulletin
Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development’ 1–6 | 1
Institute of Development Studies | bulletin.ids.ac.uk
Volume 50 | Number 4 | December 2019
Transforming Development Knowledge
THE BELT AND ROAD
INITIATIVE AND THE
SDGs: TOWARDS
EQUITABLE, SUSTAINABLE
DEVELOPMENT
Editors Gong Sen,
Melissa Leach and Jing Gu
6 |
Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development
Zhou Aligning the Belt and Road Initiative with Myanmar’s Sustainable Development Plan: Opportunities and Challenges
Notes on Contributors iii
Introduction: The Belt and Road Initiative and the Sustainable Development Goals:
Opportunities and Challenges
Jing Gu, Hannah Corbett and Melissa Leach 1
The Digital Silk Road and the Sustainable Development Goals
Gong Sen and Li Bingqin 23
Green Belt and Road Initiative Environmental and Social Standards: Will Chinese
Companies Conform?
Jiang Xiheng 47
Aligning the Belt and Road Initiative with Myanmar’s Sustainable Development
Plan: Opportunities and Challenges
Zhou Taidong 69
The Belt and Road Initiative and Africa’s Sustainable Development: A Case Study
of Kenya
Jing Gu and Shen Qiu 89
Sino-Greek Economic Cooperation: COSCO’s Investment in the Port of Piraeus
Liu Qianqian and Polyxeni Davarinou 109
The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor: A Case Study
Mustafa Hyder Sayed 125
Will the Belt and Road Initiative Boost Least Developed Countries Towards
Sustainable Development?
Namsuk Kim 139
Glossary 155
© 2019 The Author. IDS Bulletin © Institute of Development Studies | DOI: 10.19088/1968-2019.139
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 4.0
International licence (CC BY-NC), which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
authors and source are credited, any modifications or adaptations are indicated, and the work is not used for commercial
purposes. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/legalcode
The IDS Bulletin is published by Institute of Development Studies, Library Road, Brighton BN1 9RE, UK
This article is part of IDS Bulletin Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards
Equitable, Sustainable Development’; the Introduction is also recommended reading.
Institute of Development Studies | bulletin.ids.ac.uk
Aligning the Belt and Road
Initiative with Myanmar’s
Sustainable Development Plan:
Opportunities and Challenges*
Zhou Taidong1
Abstract The ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by the Chinese
government provides an important opportunity to promote the global
implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This
article, using Myanmar as a country case study as it is strongly committed to
both the BRI and the 2030 Agenda, aims to paint a nuanced picture of how
the BRI could benefit Myanmar’s sustainable development. After providing
an overview of Myanmar’s recent development context, the Myanmar
Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP), and the progress of China–Myanmar
cooperation under the BRI, it argues that there are both big opportunities
and huge challenges in tapping the potential of the BRI’s development
dividends for Myanmar. The article proposes that China and Myanmar should
make joint efforts in terms of mainstreaming conflict-sensitive approaches,
increasing the confidence of Myanmar’s public in Chinese investment,
encouraging responsible investment, and diversifying financing options.
Keywords: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; Belt and Road
Initiative; Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan; China–Myanmar
Economic Corridor; Myanmar.
1 Introduction
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), formerly known as One Belt, One
Road (OBOR) proposed by China’s president, Xi Jinping, and then
arduously advocated and pushed forward by the Chinese government,
oers an important opportunity to accelerate eorts to achieve the
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) globally. Though dierent in
scope, the BRI and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
(2030 Agenda) share overlapping goals and objectives with big potential
to drive mutual synergy (BRF Advisory Council 2019). The ve
pillars of the BRI – policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity,
unimpeded trade, nancial integration, and people-to-people bond
70 | Zhou Aligning the Belt and Road Initiative with Myanmar’s Sustainable Development Plan: Opportunities and Challenges
Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development
– are intrinsically linked to the 17 SDGs (Guterres 2019). By closing
nancing gaps and providing new sources of economic growth through
improved connectivity, the BRI could help reduce poverty and improve
a range of social needs including employment, education, and health.
Myanmar, the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia with a
population of 53 million and located strategically at the junction of
Southeast Asia and South Asia, has witnessed rapid growth in recent
years and become one of the world’s fastest growing economies
(IMF 2016). In August 2018, the Myanmar government formulated
the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP) to ensure
coherence among dierent policies and institutions, reinvigorate
reform, and promote action to achieve the SDGs. In the meantime,
the new government, led by the National League for Democracy
(NLD) and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has embraced
the BRI and economic cooperation with China despite some setbacks
during Myanmar’s post-2011 reforms. While the BRI presents huge
opportunities for Myanmar to full its MSDP and development
ambitions as well as the 2030 Agenda, challenges remain.
This article aims to analyse the opportunities and challenges brought
by the BRI to the implementation of the MSDP in the context of
a globally unanimous 2030 Agenda. It is structured in ve parts.
Following this introduction, Section 2 briey outlines Myanmar’s recent
development context and the MSDP. Section 3 provides an overview
and progress of China–Myanmar cooperation under the BRI based
on the ve pillars. Section 4 discusses opportunities and challenges in
synergising the BRI and the MSDP and, more importantly, in tapping
the potential of the BRI to contribute to Myanmar’s sustainable
development. Section 5 concludes and puts forward recommendations
to align the BRI and the MSDP to optimise its use as an investment tool
for maximum sustainable development dividends.
2 Myanmar’s development context and the MSDP
Myanmar, isolated for much of the past six decades, is undergoing
a critical process of political, economic, and social transition. Since
opening up in 2012, the country has experienced rapid growth. Though
the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth slowed down from
6.8 per cent in scal year (FY) 2017 (1 April 2017–31 March 2018) to
6.2 per cent in the transitional FY2018 (see Figure 1) according to the
Asian Development Bank (ADB), the growth is still robust by regional
and global standards (ADB 2019). To promote economic recovery in
a turbulent global context, the Myanmar government has undertaken
a series of policies in recent years including opening up to foreign
direct investment (FDI) of retail and wholesale trade and the insurance
business; implementation of the Companies Act; and large investments
in infrastructure projects including those related to the BRI. As a result,
growth is forecast at 6.6 per cent in FY2019 and 6.8 per cent in FY2020
(ADB 2019).
IDS Bulletin Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development 69–88 | 71
Institute of Development Studies | bulletin.ids.ac.uk
Nevertheless, the country is still facing tremendous development
challenges. Subnational conicts are still widespread, aecting up to one
quarter of the population, and impeding the entire country’s political
trajectory, economic growth, and human development (Burke et al.
2017). The military still plays a massive role in economic governance
and senior military ocers own shares in some of the most protable
extractive businesses (Stokke, Vakulchuk and Øverland 2018). While
FDI ows increased in 2017/18 compared to the previous scal year,
FDI commitments declined by 14 per cent in 2017/18 compared to
2016/17, reecting uncertainty in the investment climate related to the
Rakhine crisis and weak reform momentum (World Bank 2018).
Major sources of investment largely rely on Singapore, China, and
Thailand, and are limited in diversication. Myanmar’s ranking in the
2019 World Bank Doing Business report remained unchanged at 171st
out of 185 countries, despite some key improvements in reducing the
cost of registering a company and increasing the reliability of electricity
supply, and the transparency of tari information (World Bank 2018).
The country also ranks the lowest in the Southeast Asia region in other
assessments; 148 out of the 189 countries and territories in the Human
Development Index (HDI) (UNDP 2018) and 131 out of the 140
economies in competitiveness according to the World Economic Forum
(Schwab 2015).
Persistent low-quality infrastructure remains a major impediment to the
country’s economic growth and competitiveness (Verbiest and Naing
2017). Myanmar is one of the most underdeveloped countries in Asia
in terms of infrastructure. Only 38.9 per cent of the road network is
paved and only 37 per cent of the population has access to electricity.
The country has the lowest road density and greatest power-sector
Figure 1 Myanmar annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate (2008–18)
Source Author’s own, based on data from the Myanmar Statistical Information Service
(2019).
12.0
10.0
8.0
6.0
4.0
2.0
0.0
2008 (FY)
2009 (FY)
2010 (FY)
2011 (FY)
2012 (FY)
2013 (FY)
2014 (FY)
2015 (FY)
2016 (FY)
2017 (FY)
2018 (FY)
Annual GDP growth rate
Percentage of GDP growth rate
72 | Zhou Aligning the Belt and Road Initiative with Myanmar’s Sustainable Development Plan: Opportunities and Challenges
Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development
investment needs in the region (Vakulchuk et al. 2017). According to
the ADB (2014), investment gaps in Myanmar could total as much as
US$80bn by 2030 or US$4.7bn per year.
In August 2018, the Myanmar government issued the MSDP as the
single national strategy (2018–30) to provide an overarching plan for
longer-term sustainable development and strengthen coordination and
coherence among the myriad sectoral, ministerial, and subnational
plans. The 66-page-long document not only builds upon multiple
existing strategy documents and sectoral plans, but also mediates
between local developmental needs and the global sustainable
development agenda. It sets out three pillars, ve goals, 28 strategies,
and 251 action plans (see Box 1). The three pillars include peace and
stability (pillar 1), prosperity and partnership (pillar 2), and people and
planet (pillar 3), which are the same as the ve Ps that broadly capture
the scope of the 2030 Agenda.
For each of the ve goals, the MSDP has developed clear strategies and
multidimensional action plans, to be supported by multiple programmes
and projects, and a broad range of stakeholders. Key strategies consist
of, among others, fostering union-wide peace, promoting equitable
and conict-sensitive socioeconomic development, improving rule of
law and good governance, strengthening civil engagement and public
participation, enhancing macroeconomic management, supporting job
creation, creating a secure and conducive investment, as well as building
a priority infrastructure base (Myanmar Union MOPF 2018). Priority
sectors include trade, nancial services, infrastructure, education
Box 1 Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP) (2018–30)
Pillar 1: Peace and stability
Goal 1: Peace, national reconciliation, security, and good
governance
Goal 2: Economic stability and strengthened macroeconomic
management
Pillar 2: Prosperity and partnership
Goal 3: Job creation and private sector-led growth
Pillar 3: People and planet
Goal 4: Human resources and social development for a
twenty-rst century society
Goal 5: National resources and the environment for national
prosperity
Source Myanmar Union MOPF (2018: 5).
IDS Bulletin Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development 69–88 | 73
Institute of Development Studies | bulletin.ids.ac.uk
and health, environment, sustainable energy, natural resources, and
sustainable cities. Though goals and action plans in the MSDP are
country-specic, relevant SDG targets were identied to ensure
consistency and alignment between the MSDP and the SDGs.
The Myanmar Union Ministry of Planning and Finance (MOPF) is
the focal entity for the implementation of the MSDP and houses the
MSDP Implementation Unit (MSDP-IU). The MSDP-IU, consisting
of the National Economic Coordination Committee (NECC), the
Development Assistance Coordination Unit (DACU), and the Planning
Department, and Policy Appraisal and Progress Reporting Department
of the MOPF, is responsible for providing guidance, approving strategic
decisions, and resolving strategic issues regarding the implementation
of the MSDP. With help from the World Bank and other agencies, the
MOPF also established a project bank to facilitate implementation
of the MSDP in a predictable, coordinated, and transparent manner.
The project bank is a rolling databank consisting of major and
transformative projects that have been screened, appraised, and
prioritised, and that are ready for implementation with the most
appropriate source of nancing.
Projects included in the database will not only go through the screening
process which is based on their relevance with strategic planning and
prioritisation, but also the categorisation process in terms of source
of nancing, such as public–private partnership (PPP) projects,
development assistance projects, and government budget projects.
Projects will then be dealt with in dierent ways. For example, budgets
will be transferred to projects that should be funded by the government;
development assistance projects are transferred to the DACU and some
of the PPP projects will be transferred to the PPP Centre (Aung 2019).
As of the end of June 2019, the project bank has yet to be formerly
launched and no detailed information at project level has been revealed.
It is worth noting that the MSDP greatly emphasises environmental
sustainability, including tackling deforestation, mangrove loss, the
illegal wildlife trade, unregulated mineral extraction, air and water
pollution, increases in waste, and climate change. It makes clear that
environmental and social impact studies for all the proposed projects
must comply with regulations made by the Myanmar Ministry
of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, and the
government will be responsible for compensating and resettling those
who are impacted. The MSDP reects that the Myanmar government is
trying to ensure balance between development in economic, social, and
environmental dimensions. This will have important implications for
BRI cooperation, to be illustrated in Section 4.
3 China–Myanmar cooperation under the BRI: current status
Despite government change and some setbacks during Myanmar’s
post-2011 reform, China’s economic engagement with Myanmar
has deepened. Myanmar is also involved in two of the six economic
74 | Zhou Aligning the Belt and Road Initiative with Myanmar’s Sustainable Development Plan: Opportunities and Challenges
Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development
corridors identied under the BRI.2 This section outlines the progress
of China–Myanmar BRI cooperation in terms of the ve pillars –
policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade,
nancial integration, and people-to-people bond.
3.1 Policy coordination
Improving policy coordination is an important guarantee for
implementing the BRI. The major indicators include: the building
of an intergovernmental macro policy exchange and communication
mechanism, the number of visits by leaders from both sides, and mutual
political trust and alignment in development strategies and policies
(China National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry
of Foreign Aairs, and Ministry of Commerce 2015). Since 2013,
when the BRI was proposed, China and Myanmar have made great
achievements in terms of policy coordination, reected by the frequency
of visits by Myanmar leaders to China, their positive comments on the
BRI, as well as progress in BRI cooperation. For example, in November
2014, Myanmar President U Thein Sein pointed out at the Dialogue of
Strengthening Connectivity Partnership in Beijing that the BRI would
bring peace, stability, and prosperity to the world. He then further
remarked that the Myanmar side would deepen cooperation with China
in infrastructure connectivity in September 2015 (China News 2015).
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also paid her rst international
visit to China after winning the election, and was present in the rst
and second Belt and Road International Cooperation Forum in 2017
and 2019 respectively. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on
the BRI signed between the two countries in May 2017 represented a
milestone for policy coordination between the two sides (Ying 2018).
Cooperation between the two countries under the BRI made another
great stride when Chinese State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Wang
Yi proposed the establishment of the China–Myanmar Economic
Corridor (CMEC) during his meeting with his counterpart Aung
San Suu Kyi in November 2017. The CMEC, taking the shape of
a ‘reverse-Y’, will connect China’s southwestern province of Yunnan to
Mandalay in Central Myanmar, and then east to Yangon and West to
Kyaukpyu, Rakhine State. The CMEC is the second bilateral economic
corridor after the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and
constitutes an important part of the BRI. It aims to promote economic
integration by linking three important economic centres in Myanmar;
namely, Mandalay, Yangon New City, and the Kyaukpyu Special
Economic Zone (SEZ) (Ying 2018).
In February 2018, the two sides nalised a 15-point MoU at the
working group level and agreed to collaborate on many sectors
including basic infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, agriculture,
transport, nance, human resource development, telecommunications,
and research and technology in order to develop the CMEC. Following
that, the two governments formally signed the MoU to build the CMEC
IDS Bulletin Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development 69–88 | 75
Institute of Development Studies | bulletin.ids.ac.uk
in September 2018 (Thiha 2019). During the second BRI Summit at the
end of April 2019, China and Myanmar reached further agreements on
trade, economic development, and technical assistance.
Myanmar’s positive gesture was further reected in the establishment
of the OBOR Implementation Steering Committee in November
2018, which is chaired by the State Counsellor and includes chief
ministers from subnational governments as well as representatives
from various departments. The functions of the Steering Committee
include improving coordination among dierent organisations, giving
policy-related guidance, formulating management plans, and organising
experts to conduct research on BRI-related projects. The Myanmar
government also formed the CMEC Joint Committee chaired by the
Union Minister for the MOPF and the CMEC Committee chaired
by the Union Minister for Commerce in late 2018. Such committees
not only signal the importance Myanmar attaches to the BRI, but also
demonstrate that the CMEC is an important part of the comprehensive
strategic cooperation between China and Myanmar. That said, the
Myanmar government has emphasised that the chosen projects under
the CMEC must align with the country’s national priorities as outlined
in the MSDP. It has been reported that only nine of the 30 projects
proposed by China were approved by the Myanmar side (Lwin 2019).
3.2 Infrastructure connectivity
Infrastructure connectivity is a priority area for implementing the
initiative, covering transport, port infrastructure, oil and gas pipelines,
the power grid, civil aviation cooperation, as well as cables and
other communication networks (China National Development and
Reform Commission, Ministry of Foreign Aairs, and Ministry of
Commerce 2015). The projects along the CMEC are largely related
to infrastructure construction, including the China–Myanmar oil and
gas pipelines, the Kyaukpyu deep-sea port with two berths in its initial
phase, the Kunming–Kyaukpyu railway line, the Mandalay–Tigyaing–
Muse expressway, and the Kyaukpyu–Nay Pyi Taw highway projects.
Among them, the China–Myanmar oil and gas pipelines, the rst oil
and gas pipelines running through the south to the north of Myanmar,
predate the BRI and are in operation. The crude oil pipeline is jointly
invested in by the Southeast Asia Pipeline Company Ltd (50.9 per cent),
a subsidiary company of the China National Petroleum Corporation
(CNPC), and the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) (49.1 per
cent). The gas pipeline is jointly invested in by the CNPC Southeast
Asia Pipeline Company Ltd (50.9 per cent), the MOGE (7.37 per cent),
the POSCO DAEWOO Corporation (25.04 per cent), the ONGC
CASPIAN E&P B.V. (8.35 per cent), the Gas Authority of India
Ltd (4.17 per cent), and the Korea Gas Corporation (4.17 per cent),
bringing together six parties from four countries (CNPC 2017).
The China–Myanmar oil and gas pipeline project, through supplying
energy to China, has not only diversied the oil and gas imports and
76 | Zhou Aligning the Belt and Road Initiative with Myanmar’s Sustainable Development Plan: Opportunities and Challenges
Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development
exports of Myanmar and spurred growth in the oil and gas industry,
but also played an important role in providing energy to central and
northern Myanmar through the dierent otake points. For example,
in Kyaukpyu, due to the project, residents now enjoy 24-hour access
to electricity at a cheaper cost. The project also contributes substantial
economic benets to Myanmar including tax revenue, investment
dividends, right-of-way fees, cross-border fees, training funds, and others.
Progress has also been made in the Kyaukpyu deep-sea port project.
China and Myanmar signed a framework agreement on 8 November
2018, three years after the bid was awarded to the China-based CITIC
Group. The framework now foresees a US$1.3bn joint investment
for implementation of the rst phase of the Kyaukpyu deep-sea port.
The total cost of the project, which is now planned in four phases, is
estimated at about US$7bn. The rst phase will include two deep-water
berths. The China-based CITIC Group will hold 70 per cent stake
while the remaining 30 per cent will be invested by the Myanmar
government and local public rms.
The two countries also signed an MoU in October 2018 for preparation
of a feasibility study for the Muse–Mandalay railway line. In June 2019,
the China Railway Eryuan Engineering Company (CREEC) submitted
a technical report as part of the feasibility study. The report is based on
a ground survey along the Muse–Mandalay highway road and includes
soil analysis results as well as suggested routes. Ocials of the CREEC
and Myanmar Railways conducted inspections on the ground and also
held public meetings with the authorities, residents, and elders of the
townships of Kyaukme, Lashio, and Muse, where the railway might
pass through. The railway is expected to span over 430km with ve
train stations. The designed speed for the train is 160km per hour.
Figure 2 Trade value between China and Myanmar (US$ million)
Source Author’s own, based on data from the Myanmar Statistical Information Service
(2019).
50,000
45,000
40,000
35,000
30,000
25,000
20,000
15,000
10,000
5,000
0
Trade with China
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Total foreign trade
IDS Bulletin Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development 69–88 | 77
Institute of Development Studies | bulletin.ids.ac.uk
3.3 Unimpeded trade
Investment and trade cooperation are a major task in building the
BRI, including investment and trade facilitation, the reduction and
removal of investment and trade barriers, and the optimisation of
trade structure. During the BRI period 2013–17, Myanmar’s trade
with China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) steadily increased
(see Figure 2) and by 2017, the total trade between the two countries
exceeded US$11.79bn, an average increase of 13.8 per cent over the
ve years (Myanmar Statistical Information Service 2019). China has
remained Myanmar’s largest trading partner two years in a row. The
outward direct investment from China (excluding Hong Kong and
Macau) in Myanmar, once aected by the suspension of the Mystone
Dam project, recovered back to US$12.9bn in 2017 (see Figure 3), with
344 projects in sectors such as oil and gas, electricity, manufacturing,
transport, and communications far exceeding those from other major
countries in the region (ibid.). The investment is likely to further
increase when the projects planned under the CMEC are implemented,
including the New Yangon City project (US$1.5bn),3 the Kyaukpyu
SEZ (US$2bn), the Mandalay Yida Economic and Trade Cooperation
Zone (US$4bn), and the Myanmar–China border economic
cooperation zones.
3.4 Financial integration
Financial cooperation is an important element of implementing the BRI.
Myanmar is one of the founding members of the Asian Infrastructure
Investment Bank (AIIB). In 2016, the AIIB, together with the World
Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), and the ADB approved
its rst loan for a Myanmar project: a US$20m loan to the 225MW
(megawatt) Myingyan gas-red power plant (Frontier Myanmar 2016).
Myanmar is also one of the 28 countries that had approved the Guiding
Figure 3 China’s foreign direct investment in Myanmar in comparison (US$ million)
Source Author’s own, based on data from the Myanmar Statistical Information Service (2019).
3,500
3,000
2,500
2,000
1,500
1,000
500
0
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
1,290.12
China
UK
South Korea
India
Japan
USA
3,323.85
516.9 482.59
56.92
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Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development
Principles on Financing the Development of the BRI, which includes
fostering a transparent, friendly, non-discriminatory, and predicator
nancing environment, underscoring the importance of conducting
social and environmental impact assessments and risk management,
as well as sustainable and inclusive development (China Ministry of
Finance 2017). China and Myanmar cooperated in a bilateral currency
swap and settlement. The China and Myanmar Currency Exchange
Center was established in Ruili City, Yunnan Province in 2015, making
Ruili the rst city to trade kyat in China. The centre intended to build an
eective platform to promote the Sino–Myanmar currency exchange’s
standardisation and legalisation, increase China–Myanmar trade, and
facilitate cross-investment (Yurun and Yingqing 2015).
3.5 People-to-people bond
The people-to-people bond provides public support for implementing
the BRI reecting in, among others, education, training, tourism, public
diplomacy, as well as corporate social responsibility. In 2017, the Chinese
government awarded 103 Myanmar student scholarships and arranged
more than 168 short-term training projects with 637 trainees (Ying
2018). China and Myanmar have also agreed to establish cultural centres
in the two countries, with the launching of the China Cultural Center
in Yangon in 2017. Cooperation and exchanges among thinktanks
have witnessed a huge increase in the two countries since 2013 (ibid.).
In addition, China has increased and reoriented its aid to people’s
livelihood projects in Myanmar, including oering humanitarian aid to
help displaced people in Rakhine State, performing eye operations for
Myanmar patients, and implementing a series of agricultural technology
transfer projects under the Lancang–Mekong Cooperation Mechanism.
One of China’s civil society organisations, the China Foundation for
Poverty Alleviation, also established its rst overseas country oce in
Yangon, providing scholarships for Myanmar students.
4 Discussion
The MSDP has more or less internalised the 2030 Agenda based on
Myanmar’s context. As Myanmar’s largest neighbour, trading partner,
major investor, and development partner, China could denitely play an
important role in fostering sustainable development in Myanmar. The
BRI, more specically the CMEC, can be an overarching framework for
the two sides to upgrade cooperation for shared benets. Nevertheless,
there are still daunting challenges ahead to translate such ideas and
policies into actions.
4.1 Opportunities
The CMEC, as part of the BRI, represents big opportunities for
Myanmar to implement its MSDP and the 2030 Agenda in dierent
ways. First, the CMEC shares synergies with the MSDP in design
and represents the convergence of common interests between the two
countries. For example, the MSDP considered adequately addressing
the infrastructure gap and upgrading international transport corridors
as the key to achieving Myanmar’s development ambitions. In fact, one
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could argue that the idea of the CMEC comes from Myanmar’s own
development plan. The Industrial Policy formulated by Myanmar’s
Ministry of Industry in 2016, which later constitutes an important part
of the MSDP, identied four economic corridors for global integration,
including the North–South Economic Corridor, the East–West
Economic Corridor, the Northeast–Southwest Economic Corridor, and
the economic corridor from Yangon to Myawaddy. The CMEC greatly
overlaps two of them; namely, the North–South Economic Corridor
(Yangon to Mandalay) and the Northeast–Southwest Economic
Corridor (Kyaukpyu–Mandalay–Muse).
The Industry Policy also made it clear that Myanmar would construct
international deep-sea ports and place industries close to them, including
Kyaukpyu deep-sea port where ‘cargo ships from Europe, Africa and
West-Asia may dock’ (Myanmar Union MOI 2016: 17). The Kyaukpyu
SEZ was also long planned as a commercial centre of port cities to
help address the economic imbalances between developed Yangon and
underdeveloped Rakhine State. Thus, it could be said that the CMEC
fully aligns with the MSDP or even originates from Myanmar’s own
development plans, catering to Myanmar’s development needs.
Second, the CMEC could be a catalyst for infrastructure development
and economic growth in Myanmar. A modern and well-functioning
infrastructure is fundamental to Myanmar to develop into a developed
market economy. There have been many assessments globally regarding
the positive impacts of infrastructure on economic growth, including
enhancing competitiveness and productivity, improving accessibility of
public services, facilitating trade and mobility, as well as generating jobs
(McKinsey and Company 2016; Straub and Terada-Hagiwara 2010).
Evidence from other countries also suggests that BRI road projects and
associated investments oer considerable opportunities in increased
productivity, reduction of trade costs and barriers, agglomeration
eects, and ow on eects for production, employment, and incomes
(Berg et al. 2015).
Road and railway construction under the CMEC would connect major
urban centres and communities across the country and with major cities
and markets in neighbouring countries, notably Bangladesh, China, and
India. For example, with Muse being the largest trade portal between the
two nations and Mandalay being central Myanmar’s commercial centre,
the Muse–Mandalay railway line has the potential to play an important
role in enhancing connectivity between Myanmar and China as well as
with other regions of Southeast Asia. Port development could also enable
Myanmar to become a regional hub, thanks to its strategic location.
As such, the CMEC could oer Myanmar an important opportunity
to modernise and industrialise, especially the underdeveloped western
regions. Improved infrastructure connectivity, delivered to a high quality
with a focus on viability, resilience, and sustainability would catalyse the
development of new industrial chains, value chains, and supply chains,
nurture human capital, and support long-term growth.
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Thirdly, the BRI could also provide an impetus to address the
signicant nancing gap in Myanmar. Given the limited public
budget, the Myanmar government would need to explore dierent
funding mechanisms, including the PPP model, loans from multilateral
development banks, as well as aid from development partners. The
dierent funding mechanisms and channels under the BRI, such as the
Silk Road Fund, the China Development Bank, the Import and Export
Bank, Chinese commercial banks, and state-owned enterprises, could
partially satisfy funding needs.
Meanwhile, the CMEC would also have huge implications for
the Myanmar peace process as its projects extend across many of
Myanmar’s conict areas and aect the livelihoods of local people. The
CMEC provides impetus for China to contribute to the peace process
in Myanmar. To secure the success of the economic corridor, China will
need to work with the Myanmar government to address subnational
conicts in Northern and Western Myanmar. In fact, the Chinese
authorities have brokered informal talks to end immediate hostilities
and pressured ethnic armed organisations to participate in formal peace
dialogues (International Crisis Group 2017). Arguably, the CMEC could
complement the Myanmar government’s eorts in promoting peace and
stability through development.
4.2 Challenges
While there is strong political will and passion from the Myanmar
government for the BRI, few projects have been implemented and there
are daunting obstacles ahead to put the CMEC on the ground.
Firstly, the CMEC currently lacks concrete and eective tools to address
the security risks led by the domestic crisis in Myanmar. Subnational
conict in Myanmar is not a peripheral issue and the reasons are
extremely complex, driven by competing demands concerning control
over resources, authority, and territory (Burke et al. 2017). Conicts
between the Myanmar government and ethnic armed groups not only
jeopardised border security and regional connectivity but also brought
security risks to Chinese investors in Myanmar. The Rohingya issue in
Rakhine and ethnic armed rebels in northern Myanmar constitute the
major hurdles for the CMEC. For example, Kyaukpyu is located in the
restive Rakhine State, and although the Kyaukpyu deep-sea port and SEZ
are not in the Rohingya conict zone, the potential threat that Rohingya
militants pose to the Kyaukpyu infrastructure cannot be easily dismissed.
Highways and railways under the CMEC will also pass through other
conict zones. In addition, conicts in northern Myanmar have resulted
in the occasional closure of some border posts and the deaths and injuries
of Chinese civilians. While there might be strong concerns about debt
sustainability on the Myanmar side, it is threats to the security of Chinese
works and Chinese-built infrastructure projects that worry the Chinese
side most and could potentially hamper cooperation. The non-intervention
foreign policy principle further constrains China’s policy options in
dealing with such complex issues at Myanmar’s subnational level.
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Secondly, while the CMEC receives a widespread positive attitude from
government ocials and business communities, Myanmar’s public seem
to have little knowledge of the CMEC and remain suspicious of China’s
investment. The CMEC faces challenges in both information and
trust decit. China’s growing footprints in Myanmar aroused popular
resentment and social unrest in the past and such memories have not
withered away. With the adoption of opening up policy in Myanmar, its
civil society groups are becoming more active and vocal as well as more
cautious towards China’s investment.
However, the author’s eld visits revealed that a large proportion of
civil society and the public rely on social media regarding CMEC
information. Very few thinktanks are doing research and exchanges
on the CMEC or even China’s cooperation with Myanmar due to a
shortage of funding and expertise. In the meantime, the Myanmar
public also has territorial concerns regarding further integration with
China. For example, in early 2019, a piece of news regarding a Chinese
company’s establishment of the Yongbang Digital Economic Zone in
Mongla, Shan State, which will encourage use of digital currency, has
provoked wide complaints on the violation of the country’s sovereignty
(Wansai 2019).
Thirdly, as many of the CMEC projects are large infrastructure
projects, they will face huge challenges in terms of land acquisition and
compensation, environmental protection, and stakeholder engagement
in Myanmar. The SDGs and the MSDP both recognise that Myanmar’s
development depends fundamentally on sustainable management of
the natural environment. Studies have shown that Myanmar’s natural
environment functions greatly as a capital asset, providing goods and
services to the country’s citizens (Mandle et al. 2016; Emerton and
Aung 2013). As such, the Myanmar government has repeatedly made
it clear that there would be no exception to the rigorous and stringent
assessment process of identifying and reviewing projects under the
CMEC, taken from their strategic alignment with the MSDP.
Though the MSDP sets out that the Myanmar government will be
responsible for land acquisition and resettlement, history has shown that
the issue is more complex on the ground. Land disputes often emerge
for dierent reasons, including unclear or overlapping ownership, the
theft of compensation funds by corrupt local governments, or concerns
about losing livelihoods resulting from loss of land. The China–
Myanmar oil and gas pipelines project, completed in 2015, still has
disputes regarding land compensation.
According to a report from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)
in Myanmar (Helsingen et al. 2017), the BRI road infrastructure,
if not properly planned or constructed, could have many negative
impacts including increased risks of natural disasters such as landslides
and ooding, water pollution, wildlife mortality, and ecosystem
degradation. The signicance of these risks is underscored by the fact
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that the CMEC cuts through areas that are home to about 24 million
people and they could be impacted by increased sedimentation due to
upstream infrastructure development, deforestation, and other land use
change (ibid.).
Underlining all of the challenges regarding land acquisition,
environmental protection, and community engagement are a lack
of proper systems, institutions, instruments, and capacities on both
sides to monitor, assess, and make changes accordingly during
project implementation. For example, despite improving its domestic
environmental policies, China still does not promulgate regulations
concerning environmental protection of its foreign direct investment.
Guidelines for foreign investment and the promotion of corporate social
responsibility largely rely on the initiative of the investing company.
Environmental criteria and their impacts in decision-making are still
unclear for major Chinese funders such as the Import and Export Bank
and the China Development Bank.
Another important issue lies in how to deal with the relationship among
dierent interest groups and how to establish a broader community
of common interests. Rapid changes that accompany accelerated
development generate both winners and losers and can create instability.
Field studies also revealed that local residents would only support
development initiatives if they experience direct benets. Community
members often supported improvements to local roads which ease direct
access to markets, schools, and hospitals. However, some have expressed
concerns that new and large roads would enable more military
engagement, attract armed disputes over taxation, land conscation,
or forced displacement, as well as ows of migrants from other regions
(Burke et al. 2017: 34).
Fourthly, there are also nancial sustainability concerns on the
Myanmar side. The railway and highways across the northern
mountain ranges could be very expensive. An earlier feasibility study for
the railway priced the project at US$20bn, and China had oered to
pay for 90 per cent. However, even then, Myanmar could not aord its
share. China and Myanmar also face several other nancial challenges.
Myanmar’s nancial system fails to meet international standards.
The country’s stock market is still underdeveloped, and it is hard for
enterprises to obtain nancing in Myanmar. In addition, as a currency
swap agreement has yet to be signed between China and Myanmar, it is
inconvenient for Chinese enterprises to invest in Myanmar.
5 Conclusion and recommendations
The Myanmar NLD government has adopted various policies to
reinvigorate and maintain its economic growth, including issuing
the MSDP and embracing the BRI. In essence, the MSDP and the
BRI are fully aligned and the BRI could be an important vehicle for
Myanmar to realise its development ambitions and achieve the SDGs.
This is probably why China–Myanmar BRI cooperation has steadily
IDS Bulletin Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development 69–88 | 83
Institute of Development Studies | bulletin.ids.ac.uk
progressed, unanticipated by many observers. Nevertheless, to fully tap
the potential of the BRI’s contribution to the MSDP, both countries still
face huge challenges in security, social, environmental, and nancial
dimensions, and will need to make strong eorts to bring the initiative to
the ground.
First and foremost, China and Myanmar should mainstream conict-
sensitive approaches into all aspects of CMEC implementation.
A sustained peace is integral to both the CMEC and Myanmar’s
sustainable development. The MSDP attributes domestic conicts to
‘mistrust between groups, the lack of transparent and accountable public
institutions, the exclusion and marginalisation of people from decision-
making processes as well as a persuasive sense of injustice generated by
inequitable distribution of resources, acute macroeconomic instability
and vulnerability to economic shocks’ (Myanmar Union MOPF 2018: 8).
As such, while continuing to provide necessary assistance to the Union
Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong, China should work with
Myanmar partners to make sure programmes and projects under the
CMEC are designed, implemented, and managed with the participation
of all stakeholders. Great eorts should be made in terms of disclosing
information and decentralising management of development activities,
especially when the CMEC passes through many of the conict-aected
areas. While the CMEC could strengthen social, economic, and physical
connectivity between lagging regions such as Kyaukpyu with growth
hubs such as Mandalay and Yangon, special attention should be paid
to improve benets at the subnational level, including scal income and
job opportunities. China could also prioritise ows of its development
assistance into the areas along the economic corridor.
Secondly, more eorts will be needed to increase the public’s condence
in the CMEC in Myanmar. Detailed information regarding MoUs and
agreements signed by both governments should be disclosed in a timely
manner. Bidding for and the tendering of CMEC projects should be
open to local, regional, and global actors. Joint research and dialogues
with and among thank tanks and civil society groups should be
encouraged. With the support of joint governments, 1.5-track or 2-track
mechanisms could be established. Both sides could also enhance the
multilateral dimension of the CMEC to improve credibility, including
working together with dierent multilateral and bilateral parties such as
the World Bank, the ADB, Japan, Thailand, and Singapore.
Thirdly, responsible investment, including active engagement with
community and civil society organisations should be encouraged. After
a series of high-prole controversies such as the Myitsone Dam and the
Letpadaung copper mine project, Chinese companies need to attend
to local people’s concerns over environmental and social impacts to
restore the Myanmar public’s trust in Chinese investments. Both sides
should encourage community-based development initiatives and adopt
consultative methods such as establishing village committees and giving
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residents a say in deciding and monitoring the spending of funds.
Environmental and social impact assessments should be made available
to the public in a manner that is accessible to all sectors of society,
encouraging diverse participation and collaboration.
Both governments should also consider taking mandatory measures to
enhance environmental accountability in pushing forward the CMEC.
Chinese parties should put into use the sustainability criteria stipulated
in the Guidance on the Building of the Green Belt and Road released by China’s
Ministry of Environmental Protection (2017), and refer to global
sustainability standards for infrastructure development in Myanmar.
Thorough infrastructure planning should be encouraged to avoid
critical areas, including areas important for biodiversity and providing
ecosystem services. The participation of Myanmar civil society at all
levels and stages of project planning should be facilitated to avoid
negative social and environmental impacts. Patience, transparency, and
public participation in the decision-making process are the key to ensure
success for the BRI and the CMEC.
Fourthly, given the scal constraints faced by the Myanmar government,
both sides should make eorts to diversify its nancing options,
including the promotion of the PPP model and better design and use
of China’s grants. In principle, infrastructure projects that are deemed
commercially viable and bankable should be pursued through PPP
and other innovative nancing models. Given the relatively quick
development of PPP in China, China can strengthen its knowledge-
sharing with Myanmar in improving PPP mechanisms, including those
relating to procurement and other relevant areas. China and Myanmar
can also agree to strategically make use of China’s grants to support the
advancement of the CMEC, including supporting feasibility studies,
carrying out environmental and social assessment, improving vocational
education and providing livelihood projects for people to be aected
by dierent projects. In addition, the Chinese Ministry of Finance has
issued a Debt Sustainability Framework for Participating Countries of
the Belt and Road Initiative (China Ministry of Finance 2019).4 China
and Myanmar could jointly conduct debt sustainability analysis (DSA)
to provide references for lending decisions and manage debt risks.
During the second BRI Summit, China has placed high quality at the
centre of the BRI agenda and commits the BRI to peace, prosperity,
inclusiveness, openness, innovation, greenness, and cleanness. Perhaps
no country more than Myanmar would welcome the BRI if these
commitments are translated into actions.
Notes
* This IDS Bulletin is supported by the Center for International
Knowledge on Development’s (CIKD) China–UK Partnership
Programme on Knowledge for Development.
1 Zhou Taidong, Director, Global Development Research Division,
Center for International Knowledge on Development (CIKD),
IDS Bulletin Vol. 50 No. 4 December 2019 ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the SDGs: Towards Equitable, Sustainable Development 69–88 | 85
Institute of Development Studies | bulletin.ids.ac.uk
Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC) and PhD
candidate at the China Agricultural University, China.
2 Namely, the New Eurasian Land Bridge, the China–Mongolia–
Russia Economic Corridor, the China–Central Asia–West Asia
Economic Corridor, the China–Mainland Southeast Asia Economic
Corridor, the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, and the
Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Economic Corridor.
3 The New Yangon City Project is a commercial project but part of the
CMEC plan. A framework agreement was signed between the New
Yangon Development Company and the China Communications
Construction Company (CCCC), which envisions a complex of new
towns, industrial parks, and urban development projects.
4 The Debt Sustainability Framework for Participating Countries of
the BRI was issued by the Chinese Ministry of Finance in April
2019. It is a non-mandatory policy tool which sets out procedures of
debt sustainability analysis, including debt coverage, macroeconomic
projections, realism tools, country classication, and debt-carrying
capacity, stress tests, risk signals, the use of judgement, the nal risk
ratings, and the DSA write-up.
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... Even though it is publicly considered as a mutual economic opportunity for both Countries, the corridor is contested under several perspectives (Zhou 2019; Heinrich Böll Stiftung Yangon 2019). As an example, there is scepticism around the increasing influence of China in Myanmar and the democratic and transparent management of some sensitive internal affairs, such as procedures of land acquisition and compensation, environmental protection, and stakeholder involvement (Taidong 2019). Moreover, the initial project went through significant downscaling and delays after its first launch (Sun 2019). ...
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This work upholds the importance of questioning young people to find out their point of view on urban transformation and grasp their perception and representation of the changes. Hence, the paper presents the methodology and results of an autophotography activity, and more specifically photo-routing organized in March 2018 with a group of young undergraduates at Mandalay University, Myanmar. In the sphere of this activity, the participants were asked to reflect on their relationship with the urban space and to use a camera to capture significant places and situations in their everyday experience of the city, with the goal of exploring their personal point of view on the changes occurring in it, both from a tangible and intangible perspective, in addition to how they are reflected in the everyday practice of the city. The idea at the basis of the research-intervention is that the focus on everyday life through qualitative and visual investigation techniques enables the emergence of some of the—both conscious and not—more-than-representational ways in which people—a group of young adults in this specific case—perceive and live the processual nature of the city. Results show that the photo-route tool proved to be particularly effective in stimulating a critical gaze on the city and the changes underway, to acquire awareness of the constantly in-becoming nature of the places and reflect in an introspective manner on their own life course in relation to the city. Thus, the paper provides a contribution “from below” to the reflections on urban transformations going on in Southeast Asian cities and, more precisely, in Myanmar.
... Li, 2017). Unimpeded trade is the keystone of the BRI and stands for trade liberalisation, trade barrier removal and free commerce promotion (Song, 2019;Taidong, 2019;Valderrey et al., 2020). Efforts to eradicate the trade environmental impact will be crucial to the enduring cooperation between China and nations along the Belt and Road while promoting unimpeded trade (Cuiyun and Chazhong, ...
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Myanmar may for a long time remain in a transitional state with an uncertain future. After a series of political and economic liberalization reforms from 2011 onwards, Myanmar’s political trajectory remains open-ended, although the most plausible scenario remains a continued slow democratization process. The democratic opening has been driven largely by the interest of the military rulers in changing Myanmar’s relations with Western states and thereby gaining leverage vis-à-vis China. Continued military influence, persistent capacity problems in political parties and parliamentary politics, weak channels of political representation and limited administrative capacity give rise to critical questions about the substance of democratization and economic development in Myanmar. The country’s informal economy is one of the largest in the world and is upheld by informal elite pacts that were formed in the military era, often involving high-ranking officers and crony companies. Along with a high level of corruption and lack of redistributive mechanisms the continuing cronyism hinders inclusive growth. If these economic structures persist, social and ethnic conflicts may intensify and progress towards further democratization stall. Despite this, foreign direct investments in resource extraction and other sectors have been on the rise since 2011 and are likely to continue. Myanmar is also ranked as the world’s second-most vulnerable country to climate change. The government needs a better understanding of climate change and its effects – both its direct impacts on Myanmar and its indirect impacts via neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh. As Myanmar remains at a crossroads, smart external assistance may have greater long-term impact in Myanmar than in other recipient countries where the situation is less volatile. However, donors may also become increasingly frustrated and reduce their assistance because of the ongoing Rohingya crisis and because of the limited local capacity to absorb international assistance.
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Belt and Road Cooperation: For a Better World
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Myanmar-China Oil and Gas Pipeline Project
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