China’s Belt and Road detours downstream in Myanmar

Ethnic wars, security concerns and official foot-dragging have all conspired to stall China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plan to build a high-speed railroad from its southwest down through Myanmar’s volatile northern regions to the Indian Ocean.    

But Beijing has an emerging alternate plan: Develop a safer trade route via Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River – a 2,200-kilometer waterway which flows north to south through the length of a nation known for its lack of modern roads and rail links.

The China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), a BRI-driven plan to link China and Myanmar via trains, roads and ports, aims to give Beijing an alternative route for fuel and other shipments through the congested Malacca Strait and the contested South China Sea, both potential conflict areas with the United States.

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Bertil Lintner