Myanmar's political and economic reforms are now in full swing, pursuing grand economic and social development goals. The country plans to lift its average annual economic growth rate to 7.7 percent in the next five fiscal years. It aims to become a modernized, developed and democratic state by 2030. Myanmar has appealed to the world for more support of its economic reform, intending to attract more investment and assistance. On May 23, 2012, Myanmar held a special presentation in Beijing, encouraging Chinese enterprises to enlarge their investment in Myanmar.
Fortunate timing and expanding neighborly ties have created a broad space for the two countries to cooperate. China supports Yunnan Province, which borders Myanmar, as an important gateway for the country to reach out to its southwestern neighbors. Myanmar gives priority to balancing development and reducing poverty in rural areas. Northeast Myanmar's Shan State and Kachin State, which border Yunnan, together cover one third of the country's land territory and are home to one 10th of the country's total population. But their economic development lags behind other Myanmar states. Ethnic conflicts have seen the rise of strong militant groups, and military clashes are unending between the Kachin Independence Army and government forces. Stability in the two states is crucial to Myanmar's reform and development, but the military alone cannot cope with the issue. Only by promoting local economic and social development can lasting peace and national solidarity be realized.
If the two countries build a cross-border community of destiny and boost common development in border areas, a wider community of shared prosperity will benefit both countries and the region as a whole.
To build such a path of shared destiny, the two countries need to shorten the distance between their people—average citizens and elites alike—and adhere to the concepts of brotherhood and community. They should cut through the distractions that adversely affect bilateral relations, enlarge two-way exchanges at various levels, and call for increasing communication in order to reduce misunderstandings. Media in each country should insist on objective and positive reporting of bilateral trade cooperation, so as to create a favorable public opinion atmosphere.
The two sides can regard the cross-border economic cooperation zone between Ruili in Yunnan and Muse in Shan as a pilot project for future cooperation. The economic cooperation zone is in accord with the two sides' common interests of promoting development, friendship and ethnic unity in border areas. Its development will help China and Myanmar cure chronic problems in these areas such as poverty, drug abuse, gambling addictions and infectious diseases.
The two sides need to improve transportation facilities in the economic cooperation zone, break the systemic obstacles restraining further development and work to put in place more trade platforms. Under the framework of an economic cooperation zone, the two countries can boost collaboration in fields such as agricultural product processing, energy exploration, environmental protection and tourism. These efforts will contribute to the free flow of capital, personnel, goods and technology between China and Myanmar.
The two governments should encourage Chinese enterprises to invest more in industries that can help boost employment and enhance the value added of local products while increasing their technological sophistication such as agricultural and mineral product processing, textiles and manufacturing. In this way, more Myanmar products can be exported to China, and more people in Myanmar will be able to share in the benefits of China's economic development. If China and Myanmar can establish a close community of development and destiny, the two countries will form the core partnership for promoting cooperation in the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar region and the Greater Mekong Sub-region.
The author is a researcher with the Institute of South and Southeast Asian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.