Airport Just Latest Chinese Foray into Burma's Transport Sector

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airport just latest chinese foray into burmas transport sectorA Chinese company will invest US $100 million toward the construction of an airport near Naypyidaw, the new capital built by Burma’s ruling junta in 2004, in the latest move by China to expand its involvement in the Southeast Asian country’s transport sector.

The company, China Communications Construction (CCC), signed a deal to work on the project on Dec. 15 following a summit attended by Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein and senior officials from China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in Phnom Penh in November, according to a report by The South China Morning Post on Jan. 3.

Work on the project 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.

On its website, CCC said its contract with Burma’s Department of Civil Aviation will be financed by a loan from the state-owned China Exim Bank.

“This project will significantly increase the internationalization of the Myanmar [Burmese] capital of Naypyidaw and increase CCC’s influence in Myanmar,” the company said.

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. 

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.


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