China and Myanmar pushed cooperation forward on Nov 14, introducing an energy liaison committee and signing more than a dozen deals relating to energy, finance, infrastructure and agriculture.
The strides were made as China has pressed ahead with its ambitious initiatives to fuel Asian growth by focusing on free trade and connectivity.
After some frustrations involving Chinese investment in the country’s infrastructure over the past few years, Myanmar’s government is seeking to reassure Beijing that it is welcome, and Beijing has responded positively, observers said.
After Premier Li Keqiang’s meeting with Myanmar President Thein Sein in Nay Pyi Taw, the two countries signed a deal on Nov 14 to build power plants fueled by natural gas, one of a number of agreements worth $7.8 billion that touched on agriculture, telecommunications and finance.
They also agreed to establish an electricity cooperation committee as a working-level liaison channel for the energy sector, to keep projects on track. Some of China’s major projects, such as the Myitstone Dam in northern Myanmar, had been suspended.
Li told Thein Sein the two sides should use intergovernmental and interparty liaison mechanisms more effectively and “strengthen strategic communication and boost political mutual trust”.
Zhai Jun, a professor of Southeast Asia studies at Peking University’s School of International Studies, said the two governments have fundamentally eased previous misunderstandings, and “have tweaked, adapted and updated policies toward each other”.
Under the deals signed on Friday, China will offer $300 million in small-scale loans to the agriculture sector and set up an agriculture cooperation committee.
It will also set up three hospitals in Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw and Mandalay to boost local livelihoods.
Jiang Ruiping, vice-president of China Foreign Affairs University, said the major bilateral projects provide needed funding and technology for Myanmar.
Only 30 percent of the population of Myanmar has access to a stable power supply, opening a large potential market to overseas investors for power infrastructure construction.
Leading Chinese enterprises have invested heavily in the energy sector. A 2,520-km gas pipeline connecting Kyaukpyu in south Myanmar and China’s Yunnan province is now in full operation. An oil pipeline taking a similar route is also close to completion.
The interaction between Beijing and Nay Pyi Taw is improving, as both have shown strong support for initiatives led by the other, such as Myanmar’s endorsement of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Zhai said.