Myanmar has scaled back plans for a Chinese-backed port on its western coast, sharply reducing the cost of the project after concerns it could leave the Southeast Asian nation heavily indebted, a top government official and an advisor told Reuters.
The initial $7.3 billion price tag on the Kyauk Pyu deepwater port, on the western tip of Myanmar's conflict-torn Rakhine state, set off alarm bells due to reports of troubled Chinese-backed projects in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the official and the advisor said.
Deputy Finance Minister Set Aung, who was appointed to lead project negotiations in May, told Reuters the "project size has been tremendously scaled down".
The revised cost would be "around $1.3 billion, something that's much more plausible for Myanmar's use", said Sean Turnell, economic advisor to Myanmar's civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
China's state-run CITIC Group, the main developer of the project, said negotiations were ongoing and that the $1.3 billion was to be spent on the "initial phase" of the port, adding the project was divided into four phases. It did not elaborate on plans for subsequent stages.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said Monday that "according to what I understand, at present both sides are having commercial negotiations" on the Kyauk Pyu project.
"The talks are progressing," Geng said at a foreign ministry briefing in Beijing. He referred further questions to the companies involved.
The original plan was to develop around 10 berths at the 25-metre deep sea port to accommodate bigger oil tankers, but the size will now be revised to only two berths, Set Aung said in an interview.
He declined to elaborate on other specifications, citing ongoing technical discussions.
The Kyauk Pyu port is a key part of China's ambitious Belt and Road initiative, aimed at expanding trade links across the world.