In May, China will gain a West Coast. The continent-sized country, whose supercharged development has, up until now, been concentrated in large cities on its eastern shoreline, is seeking to expand its sphere of economic progress – and it will do so by opening an 800km gas pipeline. The pipeline will connect Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, to the Bay of Bengal, whilst passing through central Burma.
““What China is lacking is a California,” David Pilling, Asia Editor of The Financial Times, wrote today, “another coast that would provide its remote interior provinces with an outlet to the sea.” Whether the new pipeline is an immediate success or not doesn’t seem to trouble the Chinese government – the Communist Party have invested vast resources in the erection of an oil pipeline covering the same route, due to open next year, and road and rail links between the two ‘coasts’, are due to follow in a few years’ time.
This is a potential watershed moment in contemporary Chinese history, for if the country has any aspirations to become a truly global power, this pipeline is a significant step in that direction. Robert Kaplan, an influential US author, argues China’s ability to establish a presence in the Indian Ocean, the world’s third-largest body of water, will mean China can never be considered a regional power confined to the Pacific ever again. Naturally, the declining empire of the United States, and the fallen powers of the Old World, have moved quickly. David writes, “the scramble for Burma has truly begun. The US and Europe have ramped up their presence, so far mainly through aid agencies and supply of technical assistance via multilateral bodies. Japan, which never left during the sanction years, has been quick to step up its engagement, unilaterally writing off $6.3bn of debt as a prelude to what many expect to be a wave of investments. This week, the Paris Club of western creditors also struck a debt deal, paving the way for new flows. Neither western nor Japanese companies have yet committed to fresh large-scale investments. But Japan may be interested in the vast Dawei seawater port and industrial zone in the south. In the diplomatic sphere, the US will allow Burma to observe joint US-Thai military exercises early this year.”