Myanmar dismisses fears linked to Chinese funded Hambantota port

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Myanmar has dismissed fears linked to the Chinese funded Hambantota port and said it will go ahead with a Chinese-backed deep water port project in Kyaukpyu.

Myanmar’s Government is eager to begin work on a Chinese-backed deep water port project in Kyaukpyu, and a decision is expected soon, the country’s Union Minister and security adviser Thaung Tun said.

He dismissed the fear of a “debt trap”, saying he was confident it would be a “win-win” deal, the South China Morning Post reported.

“We would like to see this project get off the ground,” Thuang Tun, who is also chairman of the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), told the South China Morning Post.

“I would say we (China and Myanmar) are negotiating, the process is moving ahead and a decision is imminent.”

The assurance follows recent reports that Myanmar is reviewing the port project in a bid to negotiate down the costs.

The project, in western Rakhine state, is of strategic importance to connect China with the Indian Ocean and is located at the terminus of oil and gas pipelines bringing fuel to China’s landlocked southwestern provinces. The port would also help reduce China’s need to ship fuel through the vulnerable Strait of Malacca.

China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, which spans over 65 countries, has given rise to criticism that it will drag developing countries into debts they could not repay.

A target of such criticism is Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, which was handed over to China Merchants Port Holdings on a 99-year lease late last year as a deal to cut government debt.

Thuang Tun said that Myanmar was aware of the Hambantota case, but that the government believed the project was economically and politically important for the country.

“In the case of Sri Lanka, there was this issue, now they have to answer to the debt,” he said.

“We already know what happened to other places, and we will make sure it [Kyaukpyu port] is a workable project.

“There are people who said: be careful, you will get into a debt trap. In this world people can have their own opinions, but we will make sure what happens to Kyaukpyu, it will be a win-win situation for Myanmar and China.”

The project would be carried out in stages, he said, adding that a vice-minister of planning and finance has been appointed to “move the project forward”.

The project’s initial cost estimate is US$9 billion, according to earlier reports. Citic, a Chinese state-owned investment corporation, has proposed taking a 70 per cent stake in the project, with the remainder split between the Myanmar government and a consortium of local firms. (Colombo Gazette)

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