09/22/2010, 00.00

Beijing gives US$ 4 billion loan to strengthen its presence in Myanmar

The loan, which is interest-free, was agreed in a meeting between Myanmar strongman Than Shwe and Chinese President Hu Jintao, in early September. Government official says money will lead to development. Expert says that the situation of ordinary Burmese will not improve and the government will become a hostage to China.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China has agreed to give Burma a 30 billion yuan (US$ 4.2 billion) interest-free loan. The agreement was reached during junta chief Senior General Than Shwe's five-day state visit to China from 7 to 11 September, Myanmar’s Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development (MNPED) announced. “The interest-free loan agreement between China and Burma was reached after Than Shwe met China's president Hu Jintao in Beijing,” a MNPED official said.

For the Chinese juggernaut, ever thirsty for energy and raw materials, Myanmar is an interesting proposition, a nation run by a repressive military junta that is going to hold elections on 7 November. In view of that, Beijing has already announced it would respect the principle of “non-interference” in the domestic affairs of other countries. The visit by Myanmar’s strongman, Than Shwe, and a 34-member Myanmar delegation, and meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao were designed to strengthen economic and trade ties between China and Myanmar, countries who share a common border in need of tighter controls.

Chinese investments in Myanmar have grown in recent years. Today, China is Myanmar’s third largest trading partner after Thailand and Singapore. In January of this year, China invested US$ 1.8 billion in the southeast Asian country. Very soon, Beijing might take top spot if the current trend continues, this according to a study by the Central Statistical Organisation. In fact, direct investments from mainland China and Hong Kong exceeded US$ 2.3 billion in June.

“The 30-year loan is intended to help fund mass hydropower projects, road construction, railway development and information technology development,” the MNPED official said.

However, accepting the loan from China may leave Burma's military government open to undue Chinese influence and to an invasion by Chinese companies and workers, said a Yangon-based economist, who did not want his name mentioned.

“Ordinary Burmese people will not get economic opportunities from this agreement,” not to mention, he noted, the fact that “government also has not published how they will manage the loan, or how much Than Shwe can spend in the military development sector”.

In fact, a military source said Than Shwe is not going to submit military expenditures to the new parliament that will convene after the 7 November election.

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