Work on an ambitious high speed railway line between China and Burma could begin as early as December, according to the railways minister;
“We will start the construction of Muse-Kyauk Phyu railway in the coming December if detailed discussions on the agreement are completed,” Minister for rail transportation, Aung Min told Deutscher Press-Agentur.
The rail link will follow the route of the Shwe gas pipeline, that will take Burmese gas and imported oil through Burma to the capital of China’s Yunnan state through the Muse-Ruli border crossing in Shan state to the port town of Kyauk Phyu in western Arakan State, a distance of 1950 km’s. The trains will reportedly be capable of travelling up to 200 km’s per hour.
“The whole project will take five years and cost about US $20 billion. China will bear the cost and the agreement will be based on BOT (build, operate and transfer) for 50 years,” Aung Min told DPA.
China has undertaken the major infrastructure project as it has sought to invigorate its western states and by pass the congested Malacca straits by Singapore. It is also desperate to bolster its energy security.
Chinese high speed rail has grown at an incredible rate with some reports hinting at a desire to build a railway from Beijing to London. The building spree lead some to suggest that China alone would soon have more high speed rail track than the rest of the world put together.
Concerns over China’s high speed rail ambition were raised in June after two trains collided in Zhejiang province killing at least 35 people and injuring around 200.
However in March the Chinese commerce minister, Chen Deming expressed frustration at the slow pace of the project in Burma, telling Reuters that China had; “wanted to start as soon as possible but because the [new] Myanmar [Burma] government has just been formed and because of their internal problems, we have had to wait.”
As a result, Aung Min’s recent statement could be in part to placate the government’s primary patrons in Beijing.
Despite the fears of pervasive Chinese influence the connectivity that the project offers could be a boon for Burmese industry particularly in sectors such as manufacturing which are facing a difficult period owing to the strength of the kyat.
Whilst the the pipelines will carry China’s liquid assets, with some US$ 20 million worth of Saudi oil traversing the country per day, the rail line will likely carry a large quantity of harder commodities, placing ever increasing Chinese strategic imperative in Burma.