China is eager to get the Kyauk Phyu Special Economic Zone off the ground as soon possibly and is waiting only for Myanmar’s green light, an official from the Communist Party of China’s central committee told Rakhine State residents this week.
During a local consultation at the May Phone Moh Hotel in Kyauk Phyu on April 24, Wang Yajun, assistant minister of the CPC central committee’s international department, said, “China is ready to implement this project. We will start as soon as Myanmar is ready.”
Myanmar’s giant neighbor has been pushing a slew of infrastructure projects after setbacks and suspensions of major deals like the stalled Myitsone hydropower dam in Kachin State.
But the Kyauk Phyu SEZ has come under fire from international human rights groups related to land grab and livelihoods concerns.
According to research by the International Commission of Jurists, 20,000 people in Kyauk Phyu township could lose their land if the project moves ahead as is.
At the April 24 meeting, residents said they are already experiencing negative repercussions from other Chinese-backed projects in the state.
“Local residents discussed how they have already suffered a lot under the oil and natural pipeline [project] and how their voices were neglected by the Chinese company. They worry that the Kyauk Phyu Special Economic Zone will have similar problems and not bring benefits to the local residents,” said U Tun Naing, one of the attendees at the April 24 meeting.
During a visit to Beijing earlier this month, President U Htin Kyaw officially launched the cross-border, crude oil pipeline into southeast China.
The pipeline has been dogged by complaints over the land acquisition.
U Tin Aung Soe, another local resident who attended the meeting, said the Kyauk Phyu-China Railway project was also discussed.
“A memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed for a railway project linking Kyauk Phyu and China. Questions were raised about the status of this project. The agreement was extended every year for four straight years but then it was cancelled in 2016. The CPC’s assistant minister told us that they want to carry it out,” said U Tin Aung Soe.
Ko Tun Kyi, coordinator of Kyauk Phyu Rural Development Association, said Myanmar’s government must consider the ongoing conflict in the area before inking any further deals or moving ahead with any more of China’s projects.
“The government should study the conflict issue first if it wants to carry out [these projects]. They do not need to consider the EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] and the SIA [Social Impact Assessment] yet. They just need to study the conflict,” he said. “If the government does as it pleases [without first doing these surveys] the SEZ may be a success for them but it will be a loss for the public.”
Ko Tun Kyi said that the new oil pipeline – and its newly designated route for oil tankers – has already caused a headache for fishermen.
“All the areas [around Made Island Port] where fishermen were working with cone-shaped fishing nets have been destroyed. Instead of taking responsibility for this issue, [the government] arrested the fishermen for working in this area illegally,” he said.
“Oil and gas are being sent to China but Rakhine State doesn’t receive any taxes. The Rakhine State government has no responsibility concerning management. It takes no responsibility and so has no accountability for land, workers’ right and women’s rights issues. More problems will rise when the natural resources of a state are in the hands of a [foreign] country and the state resources are sapped without receiving any taxes or benefits in return.”
Translated by Thida Linn
Edited by Laignee Barron