The lengthy coastal line of Rakhine on Myanmar’s south-western front has become a “ strategic axis” over the past ten years.
China, Russia and India, three emerging world powers, have expressed an interest in the growth of the area. Rakhine has gained international attention, thanks to the Shwe Gas Project, Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Port & EEZ, Power Projects (Wind & Gas), Chinese Gas & Oil Pipeline, Sittwe Port and Kaladan Multi Modal Transit & Transport Corridor. In contrast to India, which has naval stations nearby to protect, China has two goals: first, to use it as a transport route to circumvent the Mallaca Strait, and second, to get access to the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Since the coup, Russia has also claimed territory in this area.
China is pushing its projects in Rakhine vigorously. Locals who felt exploited while oil and gas pipes were being laid from Maday and Ramree island in 2012-13, expect similar fate if work picks up for Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Project and Exclusive Economic Zone around the Maday and Ramree Islands in the kyaukphyu district. Indigenous had lost their lands and access to the sea as a result of Chinese promises not being kept. Many lost their regular source of earning as fishing is the only source of earning. Now again after a decade similar worries have grabbed them. Civil societies, fishermen associations and farmers unions are protesting, but China has greased the military regime’s palms in order to move forward despite the demonstrations or environment concerns. Due to survival compulsions, the Arakan Army (AA) is silent or compromising mode.
India too developed Sittwe Port but no land acqusition or protests by the locals was ever heard and people welcomed the project rather. While talking to a head of Fisherman Association in Kyaukphyu, it was felt that people of Rakhine hate to see Chinese presence due to exploitative approach. Locals are turning against Arakan Army too since it remained silent over Chinese dominance in Rakhine or land acquisition issues. Locals see Chinese as threat to their indigenous culture and religion. People of Rakhine firmly beleive that they are more close to India as they had cultural and historical linkages with India.
Need arises to contemplate how Chinese are settling in Rakhine, the pattern is similar to that of Wa region. Today even the Myanmar Army is afraid to enter into the Wa Region. Inside Myanmar, Wa has evolved into a Chinese colony. Its proximity to China rather than Myanmar is justified by the use of the Chinese Yuan, the Chinese telephone network, Chinese cuisine and online casinos and no restrictions over the movement of Chinese. Wa appears more as Hongkong or Macau rather any Burmese township. Shops or hotels display Chinese sign boards. Cultural change to this level is fatal because it alters individuals and is challenging to undo.
Similar trends are seen in Mandalay. Real estate is completely in hand of Chinese so the general trading. The risk appetite and deep pockets to sustain for long has helped Chinese eventually. Mandalay is gateway to China and it is important centre midway to Kyaukphyue and Yangon. Mandalay, Yangon and Kyaukphyu once connected by proposed Ruili-Muse-Mandalay-Kyaukphyu Rail can change dynamics as this railway demarcates Myanmar into two regions.