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Checkmate: China started addressing its “Malacca Dilemma” through China-Myanmar Axis ; By Cmde. Vije

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Article 10/2022

The first shipment of goods using a new maritime-road-rail transportation corridor has arrived recently at China’s Chengdu International Railway Port following the completion of the Chengdu-Lincang railway line.

The new route from the China-Myanmar border gives China better connectivity to the Indian Ocean and opens the huge Sichuan Provincial markets to India and Southeast Asia. Sichuan Province has a huge population, including the massive Chongqing city region of some 102 million. It also provides Sichuan, a landlocked Province, with access to a major seaport.

The route is China’s first road-rail transport link under BRI via Myanmar, with goods being shipped from Singapore by sea, to Myanmar’s Yangon (Rangoon) Port. They were then transported by road to Southwestern China’s Yunnan Province (Lincang), arriving later at Sichuan, Provincial capital of Chengdu by rail.

This new route cuts approx 20 days off the previous transportation times and represents considerable savings. The previous route from Mandalay in central Myanmar to Kunming in China’s Yunnan province was far less efficient. However the limitation is that the Yangon Port as of now is accessible to vessels of max length 200m, 9.5 m draft & 33000 tonnages (DWT).

Further, the goods can be redistributed throughout Sichuan and beyond, to markets for example such as Tibet. They can also be forwarded across the northern route of the ‘New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor’ a plan proposed by the Chinese State Council in 2019 and which will eventually connect via Qinghai and Xinjiang Provinces to rail connectivity with Kazakhstan and Russia in all probability. That provides a secondary, easterly route for South Asia trade with Russia and Central Asia with the International North-South Transportation Corridor being a Westerly route from Iran, and the Caspian Seaports.

Major beneficiaries include Singapore, itself one of the region’s key seaports and distribution hubs, one of the top three seaports worldwide by volume. Myanmar will also benefit in terms of developing transportation, warehousing, and repackaging services. The route effectively connects the logistics lines of Singapore, Myanmar, and China, and is currently the most convenient land and sea channel linking the Indian Ocean with southwest China. The corridor can be expected to become the main route for international trade between China and Myanmar.

Yangon Port also receives shipments from Bangladesh in addition to numerous other South Asian ports, meaning additional China market access and vice versa for these markets to and from Sichuan.

The route now also becomes important for China’s other landlocked southwest provinces, including Yunnan, partially addressing what is known as China’s “Malacca Dilemma”, referring to the regional dependence on the Indian Ocean maritime chokepoint at the Malacca Straits. The new Sichuan-Myanmar corridor bypasses this and will promote additional freight redistribution sub-routes for China.

Looking at this development through strategic overview, implications for India reiterate the importance of developing much-enhanced infrastructure in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, on higher priority, for sustained all-round surveillance & monitoring of Chinese maritime activities in this area of interest comprising Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal.

(Commodore Vijesh Kumar Garg, VSM is Executive Director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. The views expressed are personal.)

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