Feature: How the development of Myanmar's Kyaukpyu port won the hearts of locals

Source: Xinhua| 2020-01-20 11:27:42|Editor: Wang Yamei
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NAY PYI TAW, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- In the early morning at a pier in the small town of Kyaukpyu on the northwestern coast of Yanbye Island, local inhabitants are busy unloading goods from the boats docked alongside.

Sitting on a 25-meter deep natural harbor, Kyaukpyu town, with a population of roughly 45,000, remains an underdeveloped area in Myanmar's western Rakhine State, and local villagers have long been looking forward to new development opportunities and higher living standards.

In 2015, a consortium of six companies led by the China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) won the tender for building the Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ), one of three such zones in the country.

The Kyaukpyu SEZ includes a deep-sea port and an accompanying industrial park nearby.

During Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Myanmar on Jan. 17-18, the two sides agreed to further push forward the Kyaukpyu SEZ project. The construction of the deep-sea port is expected to pick up pace, with prospects of boosting employment and the local economy.

The construction of the port, the first phase of which includes two berths with a total investment of 1.3 billion U.S. dollars, will commence after the completion of economic and social impact assessments.

Although more time is needed for the SEZ blueprint to turn from vision to reality, Kyaukpyu residents hold high expectations for the Kyaukpyu port.

Jobs are what locals speak of most. For now, they are heavily dependent on fishing or farming for a living, or simply leave their hometown to seek employment elsewhere.

"Many people in Rakhine State have left for other cities or gone abroad for work due to lack of jobs here," so creating more jobs is the only way to bring them back and help revive the local economy, said Nyeinn Chann Maung, chairman of Kyaukpyu District Native Ethnic Development Association.

"We face transport difficulties, power shortages, and we don't have a big market, so building only one or two factories alone cannot change the game," he told Xinhua. "That's why we need a large-scale special economic zone."

"We have been looking forward to this project for quite a long time, like people in dire need of water yearning for a timely rain," he said. "With this visit of the Chinese leader, we feel we finally have that long-awaited rain."

"Kyaukpyu has excellent geographical strengths and I believe the special economic zone will be a success," he said, adding that the project is significant to all inhabitants and will benefit the community, he said.

Tun Nu is a retired economy official of the local government, and he now serves as the chairman of a local elders' association in Kyaukpyu, which is made of respected people from various circles. The local government often seeks the association's advice on major issues concerning the region's development.

The 72-year-old said they have delivered reports to Myanmar leaders to voice their support for the Kyaukpyu SEZ program. "A lot of young people have to migrant to big cities because they can't find jobs here, so we hope the SEZ can bring work opportunities to local people," he said.

The deep-sea port is expected to consist of two terminals located on Made Island and Yanbye Island. San Shwe Myint, principal of Ywa Ma Village Elementary School on Made Island, expressed his hope for more Chinese investment in the Kyaukpyu SEZ.

"We can cooperate to develop many more projects, which will not only improve our economy, but will also give support for the fiscal revenues of our country," he said.

According to the CITIC-led consortium, the port and the industrial park combined will provide more than 100,000 jobs each year to local residents and create tax revenues of 15 billion dollars in the initial franchise period of 50 years.

To help local people acquire practical skills, the CITIC consortium has also established a youth training center to offer courses including English and Chinese language and on electric power.

Aye Thandar Linn, who is studying Chinese at the center, is an associate professor at the Government Technical Institute in Kyaukpyu, which focuses on training young talents for the Kyaukpyu SEZ.

"It will be much easier for me to communicate with Chinese enterprises in the future if I can speak Chinese, when the special economic zone is completed," she said.

"I also hope mastering Chinese will enable me to get more opportunities for my students, for them to work in Chinese companies," Aye said. "My expectation is that our graduates land good jobs because of the deep-sea port."

Kyaw Kyaw Soe, an entrepreneur who has helped build China-Myanmar oil and gas pipelines, shows strong interest in the Kyaukpyu port project.

He believes such a huge amount of investment is bound to inject vitality into local development and push up the region's gross domestic product. "We wish to join the project because we want to share the development dividends," he said.