An overland gas pipeline running through the mountains of Myanmar to Chinese cities is now complete, according to the China National Petroleum Corporation in a statement this Fall. The pipeline is expected to reduce coal consumption dramatically, stabilize northwest China’s energy supply and lower the price of gas in China, as the CNPC told XinHuaNet.
This three-year project coincided with another building operation closer to home — the dramatic democratic overhaul and opening up of the Myanmar political scene. According to the UN Department of Political Affairs, Myanmar has in the past several years witnessed the election of a democratic party, the easing of international sanctions and a newfound focus on economic development. It makes sense, then, that the comeback-kid country would favor a tremendous construction opportunity like a 500 mile pipeline. But do all parties stand to gain from the overland undertaking?
“When the project started, Myanmar was seen as Beijing's close ally, but there are now greater risks for the Chinese in this project," Michal Meidan, an analyst at Eurasia Group, told the Wall Street Journal. "They could get caught up in political strife."
China is the largest consumer of energy in the world, but their oil fields are long past peak production, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The Asian superpower doesn’t have much choice but to reach out to neighbors in its quest for ready energy. And the risks aren’t limited to China; Myanmar, in response, must reconcile its own political and economic tensions while playing host to a massive, trans-national energy conduit.
According to the People’s Daily as re-published on BBC, the pipeline is nothing more than a symbol of the strong symbiotic relationship between the two neighboring countries. "In recent years, amid the hype of some Westerners, the pipeline venture has seemed to be a project that is only profitable to the Chinese side,” the newspaper stated. “Myanmar will not only collect a 'toll', it can also withdraw a certain amount of natural gas within its territory to ease the pressure of energy shortages.”
Clearly, China-Myanmar relations now have another layer on which to build. But whether the construction ends in political strife or pipeline driven symbiosis remains to be seen.