Military, Chinese preparations underway to open Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone and deep sea port

Following a junta announcement that the controversial Rakhine coastal project is moving ahead, the Chinese state-owned company advertises jobs and promises language classes for locals

After the junta announced it was greenlighting the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and deep sea port in coastal Rakhine State last month, the Chinese state-owned company backing the initiative has begun recruiting and offering incentives to locals, Myanmar Now has learned.

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing said in a meeting of the military council’s economic committee in Naypyitaw on August 25 that the swift completion of the commercial project was a high priority, with the initial phase estimated to cost US$1.3billion. 

He emphasised that the Kyaukphyu SEZ and first corresponding port on Maday Island, operated by the China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC), would create a critical trade route for China to import oil. It would allow for the passage of cargo ships and grant the landlocked state of Yunnan direct access to the Indian Ocean. The project will eventually include a second port on Ramree Island, a bridge linking it to Maday, and overland transport from Kyaukphyu to Mandalay. 

CITIC’s Myanmar branch has advertised jobs for Chinese-speaking Myanmar nationals, and in August announced that it would provide a free three-month language training program for Kyaukphyu residents between the ages of 17 and 35. 

Partnering with CITIC Myanmar to deliver the courses, the Kyaukphyu District Ethnicities Development Association posted on social media that it would be “beneficial” to learn Chinese “regardless of whether you regard them as enemies or as friends.” 

The Kyaukphyu Technological College has also started offering Chinese courses outside of regular school hours. 

A resident of the township speculated to Myanmar Now that the language courses were “a front.” 

“It would be really great if the Chinese government actually had the wellbeing of locals in mind when they started this plan to provide language courses,” he said. “But from what I can see, it appears as if they are trying to use these language courses as a front for their own interests.”

“Locals still rarely get jobs in Chinese projects,” he added.

A model of the Kyauk Phyu Special Economic Zone and deep sea ports (CITIC Myanmar)

In 2015, the former government led by ex-general Thein Sein granted a tender to CITIC to build the SEZ and deep sea port at a cost of more than $7b, with China owning 85 percent of the shares and Myanmar retaining 15 percent control of the project.

The elected National League for Democracy government, ousted in the 2021 coup, cut CITIC’s shares in Kyaukphyu to 70 percent and reduced the budget, out of concern for debt. 

Kyaukphyu residents have objected to the land grabs, fishing restrictions, and environmental destruction associated with the project, the profits of which are expected to be channelled through the junta capital of Naypyitaw. 

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