During a trip to Arakan State’s Kyaukphyu Township on Monday, Chinese official Wang Yajun emphasized that his country aims for the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be up and running as soon as possible, local sources said.
Kyaukphyu Township administrator U Nyi Nyi Lwin said that along with Wang Yajun—who is the assistant minister of the international department of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) central committee—a regional official from the Chinese CITIC investment conglomerate and several diplomats were present on the visit, holding talks with local authorities and businesspeople.
U Nyi Nyi Lwin said that CPC delegates expressed an eagerness to begin the SEZ project without delay, as the state-owned conglomerate CITIC was already awarded the tender to develop a deep sea port and an industrial zone by the previous government.
The visitors also explained how they would promote relationships between locals and Chinese businesspeople.
Local businessman U Tin Aung Soe, who operates May Phone More Hotel near the seashore, said that Chinese delegates and 10 Kyaukphyu businesspeople had a one-hour discussion at his hotel. He also asked Wang Yajun whether the Chinese government would develop a railroad in near future, linking Yunnan Province’s Kunming with Kyaukphyu, but was told a that memorandum of understanding on the project had not yet been reached.
Another meeting attendee, U Hla Myo Kyaw, said that the Chinese delegates asked for opinions on the ground regarding the SEZ development. He told them that locals still have not yet recovered from land confiscation suffered during the pursuit of offshore gas terminals and pipelines by the China National Petroleum Corporation.
“Negative images of previous projects could hit the forthcoming SEZ project,” he said.
Chinese delegates said they assumed that a lack of interaction between locals and the Chinese officials had contributed to misunderstandings, and promised to arrange more meetings in the future.
Kyaukphyu Rural Development Association coordinator U Tun Kyi criticized the meeting between Chinese delegation and the Kyaukphyu business community as lacking in transparency. He also said that the delegates had highlighted past financial support of a 15 billion-kyat livestock project in 2015 in Kyaukphyu.
However, U Tun Kyi added that until SEZ law more clearly addresses rates for farmland compensation, “there will be no advantages for locals if the government proceeds with the project with the [current] SEZ laws.”
Recently, about 100 fishermen were charged with trespassing by the fisheries department in Kyaukphyu and fined 50,000 kyats for being in restricted territorial waters, in an area which is now reserved for international cargo ships docking at the Maday Island deep sea port, said U Tun Kyi.
The start of an SEZ project in the area could further harm livelihoods like these, he predicted.
The Chinese delegates, led by CITIC chairman Chang Zhenming, also met with Burma’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi last week and discussed their joint venture projects in Burma’s energy and transportation sectors, including the Kyaukphyu deep sea port. Dr. Than Myint, of the ministry of commerce, also reportedly talked with Chan Zhenming separately in Naypyidaw.
In late February, the International Commission of Jurists urged the government to amend SEZ law in order to meet international standards to protect human rights, and also suggested that the government’s SEZ body had breached UN principles.