Kyaukpyu is a small fishing village of some 50,000 people located in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. This sleepy hamlet is where China wants to establish the next maritime hub of the Belt and Road Initiative. The plan is to construct a world-class deep-water port and free trade zone, thus allowing China’s Yunnan-based industries to gain easier access to global markets via the Bay of Bengal.
However, like some other Belt and Road projects, political concerns are muddying the waters. Kyaukpyu Port ranks highly on a long list of controversial Chinese development projects in Myanmar, a list that includes the cancelled Myitsone hydropower dam and the ever contentious Letpadaung copper mine. The port’s detractors worry that it will force Myanmar into a subservient position of debt servitude for decades to come. Supporters argue that these concerns are eclipsed by the economic gains to be had from building a bustling new port complex on what is otherwise a largely underdeveloped swathe of Myanmar’s coast.
This backgrounder will explore the economic promise and geopolitical ramifications of the Kyaukpyu Port.