On February 1, 2021, the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, arrested members of the country’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, as well as other democratically elected officials. By the next day, the Tatmadaw announced the creation of the State Administrative Council, taking over all functions of government, and named Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as Chairman. Months later, and after the shuttle diplomacy efforts of Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, the ASEAN Secretariat hosted an emergency summit with leaders and representatives of ASEAN member states and General Hlaing to address the situation in Myanmar. The summit resulted in the Five-Point Consensus, which is still awaiting implementation.

With former President Donald Trump’s inward-focused approach, the United States left international organizations at the sideline of its foreign policy in the last four years. Meanwhile, China embraced multilateralism - going all-out to emphasize its importance and underscoring the principles that govern international organizations. But with the new team in the White House bent in reclaiming America’s place in the world, in what ways can China manage to keep up?

Abstract

Since its unveiling to the public last April 2017, the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build (BBB) program has stoked fierce discussion and debate. Yet of the various facets of the program’s implementation, few issues have achieved the same salience and staying power as that of the implications of its China-funded projects. From the administration’s “pivot to China”, concerns have been often raised concerning the “debt trap” risks of China-funded infrastructure, as well as their putative linkages with worsened corruption, social, and environmental dynamics.

This paper examines the development of the Duterte administration’s present and prospective China-funded projects, focusing specifically on the risk of generating ‘white elephant’ projects. While the drivers underlying the selection and implementation of unviable projects have cut across administrations, the economic bureaucracy’s limited absorptive capacity to meet the demands of an infrastructure spending surge, along with ‘exceptionalist’ procedures in the procurement of China-assisted projects, have amplified the risk of generating white elephant megaprojects in the Duterte administration. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has further underscored the need for shifting away from unviable megaprojects towards more cost-effective and resilient infrastructure for the foreseeable future, which may require deferring some of the largest prospective China-funded projects. There is likewise scope for institutional reform in infrastructure governance processes, such as by involving third-party experts for independent verification and auditing of project approval and implementation procedures.

Myanmar’s military coup on Feb. 1 is a matter of great concern to both the country itself and to Southeast Asia as a region. Following the Nov. 8, 2020, general election, the coup appears to be an attempt to reverse the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in both the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament..