Myanmar junta officials convened in Naypyitaw on Wednesday, January 17, 2024, to discuss plans for the construction of vital infrastructure related to a massive China-backed seaport in Kyaukphyu Township, Rakhine State.
This meeting follows the recent signing of an addendum to the concession agreement for the deep seaport project. It is a crucial component of the 1,700-kilometer China-Myanmar Economic Corridor connecting Kunming in Yunnan province to the Indian Ocean, as reported by The Irrawaddy.
The seaport and special economic zone (SEZ) is a joint venture between China and Myanmar and the junta-backed Kyaukphyu SEZ Management Committee.
A Vision for Regional Development
In a breakthrough brokered by China, a ceasefire has been established between the military regime and the Brotherhood Alliance, comprising the Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and Ta’ang National Liberation Army. This accord specifically outlines provisions for safeguarding Chinese investments and ensuring the safety of Chinese citizens in Myanmar.
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Aung Naing Oo, Chairman of the Myanmar Special Economic Zone Central Working Committee and a minister in the regime, underscored the imperative for enhanced inter-ministerial coordination to ensure the punctual completion of tasks. His recent press briefing exuded optimism, envisioning the Kyaukphyu port and SEZ as a pivotal nexus linking markets across Asia, Africa, and Europe, thereby catalyzing socio-economic development in Myanmar and the broader region.
However, these developments unfold amid ongoing conflicts, with the Arakan Army actively engaging regime forces in Rakhine State. Despite the regime’s blockade and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, the Arakan Army has achieved territorial gains, seizing Paletwa Township in Chin State and triumphing over junta battalions in northern Rakhine.
The persisting conflict in Ramree Township, bordering Kyaukphyu, adds a layer of complexity to the trajectory of the ambitious seaport project, as highlighted by business analysts. As Myanmar grapples with intricate political dynamics and military engagements, the destiny of the China-backed Kyaukphyu seaport project hangs in the balance—hinging on the delicate equilibrium between military pursuits and economic aspirations. The stage is set for a high-stakes balancing act that will shape the future landscape of this critical venture.
Arakan Army’s Challenges to Myanmar Junta’s Military Buildup
After that, in a recent communiqué, the Brotherhood Alliance, a formidable coalition featuring the Arakan Army (AA) and two allied ethnic forces, issues a stark warning of an imminent escalation of hostilities in Myanmar’s strife-torn Rakhine State. The missive unveils a troubling development: the Myanmar junta is mobilizing substantial reinforcements, accompanied by a formidable arsenal of weapons and ammunition, in a bid to staunch the aggressive thrust of AA troops.
In the face of relentless assaults from land, sea, and air, the AA, undeterred, has taken the offensive in Rakhine State, orchestrating the seizure of junta bases, as reported by The Irrawaddy. The Brotherhood Alliance discloses that a significant portion of the 400 troops that sought refuge in India following clashes in Chin State have been strategically redeployed to Rakhine State, heightening the stakes of the conflict. Concurrently, the Myanmar military is orchestrating the dispatch of additional reinforcements and military supplies to the embattled western state via maritime channels.
This tactical maneuver unfolds subsequent to a temporary cessation in Brotherhood Alliance attacks against junta targets in northern Shan State, a pause negotiated through a China-brokered ceasefire. However, this respite is fleeting as intense battles continue to ravage six townships in northern Rakhine State—Kyauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk U, Pauktaw, Ramree, and Rathedaung.
Intense Battles Grip Northern Rakhine
AA troops, displaying unabated ferocity, actively assail regime bases and fervently seek to wrest control of towns from the junta’s grip. The recent capture of junta Artillery Battalion 377 and Light Infantry Battalion 539 in Kyauktaw Township, coupled with the surrender of approximately 300 junta troops and their kin, vividly illustrates the formidable challenges confronting the Myanmar military.
The intensity of the conflict reaches a crescendo as AA troops reportedly launch rocket attacks on the junta naval headquarters in Danyawaddy, situated in Kyaukphyu Township—an area where a significant China-invested project is underway. In retaliation, the junta deploys a gunboat to shell neighboring areas, and reports from the Brotherhood Alliance reveal that the junta’s bombardment extends to Minbya Town, causing widespread destruction to civilian homes.
Adding to the complex tapestry of the conflict, an estimated 800 reinforcements from the state capital, Sittwe, disembark in a village in Minbya Township via military barges, signaling a further escalation. As the turmoil in Rakhine State rages unabated, the junta’s response to battlefield setbacks takes a grievous toll on villages and residential areas, resulting in tragic civilian casualties. The situation underscores the intricate and far-reaching impact of the ongoing conflict on the afflicted regions, painting a grim tableau of the unfolding crisis.