TODAY -

The Bridge across the Nujiang River

Dr. Puyam Rakesh Singh *



China celebrated the erection of the railway arch bridge across the Nujiang River (known as Thanlwin/Salween River in Myanmar) in Yunnan Province on December 10, 2018. The bridge is part of the 220-km-long Dali-Ruili railway which constitutes an important section of the China-Myanmar railway corridor.

It is a key piece connecting Baoshan and Dehong—two important Chinese cities along the route before reaching Ruili-Muse border trading point. The completion of the bridge marks a step towards realisation of the China-Myanmar Railway and emergence of Myanmar as a hub of regional transport connectivity.

The mighty British Empire planned to build a railway line linking Burma (now called Myanmar) and China in the nineteenth century. But the high cost, difficult terrain and political difficulties forced the British authorities to concede defeat despite the commercial interests. China is working for establishing a railway line connecting Mandalay in Myanmar and Kunming in China in the twenty-first century.

For many decades, China has been preparing to build the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) to have access to the Indian Ocean. As part of the CMEC, a railway line linking Muse and Mandalay has been proposed.

Muse is an important border town in Myanmar on the China-Myanmar border. The proposed project is extension of the railway projects being undertaken in Yunnan Province of China, especially the construction of the Darui railway (short for Dali-Ruili railway).

 Fig. 1: Map showing the planned China-Myanmar Economic Corridor
Fig. 1: Map showing the planned China-Myanmar Economic Corridor



During the visit of Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, to Myanmar in November 2017, China proposed to build the CMEC. The proposed corridor will connect Kunming in China with Yangon Port and Kyaukpyu Port in Myanmar passing through Mandalay and then extending toward east and west to Yangon and Kyaukpyu forming a Y-shaped network (See Fig. 1). Besides strategic mutual trust between China and Myanmar, the project is also closely intertwined with peace process, security and stability in northern Myanmar and the Rohingya issue.

After some hiccups, the two countries have made progress in the negotiation for building the railway corridor. An MoU on feasibility study for Muse-Mandalay Railway project was signed on October 22, 2018. The 431 km-long railway project extending from Muse to Mandalay in Myanmar is part of the CMEC (See Fig. 2). The road and rail corridors will run parallel to each other.

In fact, the signing of the new MoU was preceded by another MoU on China-Myanmar Railway project which was signed in April 2011. However, the project was halted due to public opposition in July 2014. The new project reflects a demand-based infrastructure project to de-congest the Muse-Mandalay Highway and strengthen transport infrastructure in northern Myanmar. It also covers only a section of the earlier planned railway line extending from Muse to Kyaukpyu.

Since September 2011, China has experienced relative deterioration in investment environment in Myanmar due to series of protests targeting several Chinese-funded projects. Despite such issues, China has been a major investor in infrastructure and developmental projects in Myanmar.

The oil and natural gas pipeline project to transport natural gas from Shwe gas field of Myanmar and crude oil from the oil terminal port located on Made Island in Rakhine State are strategic projects that have been successfully completed in the recent past.

 Fig. 2: Map showing the planned China-Myanmar Railway
Fig. 2: Map showing the planned China-Myanmar Railway



China has constructed railway lines connecting Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan, with Dali which is a major tourist destination in the southwestern Chinese province. The remaining section of the railway connecting Dali and Ruili on the China-Myanmar border is making progress with the construction of several key bridge and tunnel projects along the route.

In addition to high cost involved, seismic and geological issues are major hindrances to the engineering project.

 Fig. 3: Map showing the railway lines connecting China and Southeast Asia
Fig. 3: Map showing the railway lines connecting China and Southeast Asia
Source: The People's Daily, March 17, 2018, http://en.people.cn/n3/2018/0317/c90000-9438329.html



Yunnan province has been undertaking several railway projects to establish railway corridors connecting the province with the neighbouring countries namely, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam (See Fig. 3). From December 2017, China has also started construction of the China-Thailand Railway to enhance transport connectivity with the Southeast Asian nations.

The Dali-Lincang Railway and the Dali-Ruili Railway are aimed at building railway connectivity between China and Myanmar. No doubt, ethnic armed conflicts in northern Myanmar continue to affect peace and stability along the China-Myanmar border.

To deal with the challenges, China has appointed a Special Envoy for Asian Affairs to look into China-Myanmar relationship. China's Special Envoy for Asian Affairs, Sun Guoxiang, has played an important role to facilitate the ethnic armed organisations in Myanmar which have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) to participate in the peace process.

Moreover, China has proposed a 'three-phase solution' to settle the Rohingya issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Also, China has to deal with the 34.5-km-long Gaoligongshan Tunnel located along China-Myanmar border to eventually connect China and Myanmar.

The National League for Democracy-led government in Myanmar has been intensely negotiating with the Chinese counterparts over several Chinese-funded projects. Some sensitive issues including the construction of the Myitsone Dam in Kachin State remains unresolved.

Nevertheless, recent developments in China-Myanmar relationship underscore the fact that China has mobilized its resources to ensure the construction of CMEC as part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Myanmar is emerging as an active player in regional connectivity strategy.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the Researcher and not of the Council.


Reference:

§ "China builds railway arch bridge with world's longest span", People's Daily, December 11, 2018,
http://en.people.cn/n3/2018/1211/c90000-9527152.html.

§ "Wang Yi: China proposes to build China-Myanmar Economic Corridor", November 20, 2017, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), People's Republic of China,
http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1512583.shtml.

§ "China, Myanmar sign MoU on feasibility study of Muse-Mandalay railway", Xinhuanet, October 23, 2018,
http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-10/23/c_137550972.htm.

§ Debby Chan Sze Wan, "China-Myanmar high-speed railway quietly back on track", Myanmar Times, December 24, 2018,
https://www.mmtimes.com/news/china-myanmar-high-speed-railway-quietly-back-track.html.

§ "Record of 17th-day of 10th regular session of Second Amyotha Hluttaw", The Global New Light of Myanmar, December 23, 2018, page. 2.

§ "Trans-Asian Railway construction on track", People's Daily, March 17, 2018,
http://en.people.cn/n3/2018/0317/c90000-9438329.html.

§ "Beijing's first special envoy for Asia to focus on Myanmar", South China Morning Post, March 12, 2013,
https://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1188814/beijings-first-special-envoy-asia-focus-myanmar.


* Dr. Puyam Rakesh Singh wrote this article for e-pao.net
Dr. Puyam Rakesh Singh is a Research Fellow at Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi and can be contacted at khuman_mei(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on December 25, 2018.



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