A Memorandum of Understanding to establish the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) was signed by the governments of Myanmar and China in September 2018. The CMEC forms part of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a 21st century reimagining of the ancient Silk Road, the network of land and sea trade routes that once linked Imperial China with markets in the west.
There are serious concerns that government reforms will further exacerbate land tenure and food insecurity for the majority of the population in Myanmar who rely on their farm fields and forests for their livelihoods.
Amidst the many challenges Myanmar now faces, the threats to the environment are urgent – and they are growing more extreme. The situation is especially serious in the case of mega dams and hydropower where a host of projects are being promoted, without appropriate planning or public consultation, that are likely to cause irreversible harm to communities and natural ecosystems around the country. Not only are many of the projects located in nationality areas that are conflict zones, but the bulk of the energy produced will also be exported to neighbouring countries.
Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD government faced a tough situation with China at the time of their inauguration in March. But, as she visits Beijing this week, hopes are high again in China that a redirection of Myanmar's foreign policy could be underway and the pendulum of Myanmar's balancing diplomacy is swinging back to the east. But many challenges lie ahead. These include resolution of the Myitsone dam impasse, repositioning political relations between the two countries, and peaceful settlement of ethnic conflicts in the Myanmar borderlands. The stakes are very high. The outcome of Aung San Suu Kyi's meetings could well come to define Myanmar-China relations for many years to come.
What is the role of land in establishing lasting future peace in Myanmar? The country is at a crossroads, and facing rapid land polarization. However, the inauguration of a new government chosen by a landslide in historic elections offers an unprecedented opportunity to change course in a positive direction. An approach that prioritizes poor, vulnerable and marginalized groups especially ethnic nationalities, women, and youth, could lay a foundation for peace.
We are at a critical juncture in our history, more promising than at any time in recent memory. The country will have a civilian-majority government that came to office through the votes of a multitude of smaller nationality groups for a pan-national party promising political change. If this political transition is to succeed, poverty must be alleviated, corruption curtailed, drug abuse radically reduced, and a host of other social crises addressed that have long blighted our country.
The resounding victory of the National League for Democracy in the November general election has raised hopes in Myanmar and around the world that, finally, the country could be on the road towards peace and democracy. Sadly, there have been too many failures in the past for simple optimism now. During the past half-century, there have been important highpoints before when expectations were raised that the national armed forces, known as Tatmadaw, would restore democratic rights to the people and nationwide peace might spread in the country.
The release of the draft policy, part of a process towards enacting a new National Land Law and “harmonising” existing legislation, was greeted with objections and criticism from farmers’ organisations and ethnic minority groups throughout the country.