Myanmar is a very interesting country to visit, particularly when one wants to get a feel for what is taking place with key infrastructure / connectivity initiatives linking west to east. The many advantages of visiting Myanmar are the time it allows one to connect with communities, business people and government that are impacted on by these massive projects in the region.
The country has a special place in the world order right now, not only is it a frontier country, emerging from decades of isolation, it is also at the point where these important infrastructure strategies overlap and intercept. Of particular interest is the India driven network, working hard to create an alternative trade / transport corridor to that of China’s One Belt One Road, now commonly referred to as the Belt Road Initiative (BRI). This was very clear when scanning the local press when in Yangon last week. Headlines espoused the India / Myanmar relationship and claimed that the BRI was not the only player in town.
When reading a recent article by Wade Shepard regarding the interplay between the initiatives of the BRI and India, an interesting observation was made, that these initiatives should be seen as complementary and not as competitive. Whilst it could be argued that, for example, the BRI is a narrow China focus and all other initiatives, when put together, offer a more comprehensive integration of trade connectivity between Europe and Asia, it is difficult to argue the case that they are complementary.
It is informative to look at the competitive nature through the developments that are or about to take place where the two initiatives come face to face in the northwest state of Rakhine. Both India and China look to get access and control over key waterways in and around the towns of Sittwe and Kyauk Phyu. Both look to special economic zone status and deepwater port facilities that connect key markets but in an area that is in close proximity to each other. There is an element of the 21st century Great Game going on in Myanmar.