China gives 6 patrol boats to Myanmar’s military junta

A former army officer says the boats could be modified to fit weapons for use in restive Rakhine state.

China gives 6 patrol boats to Myanmar’s military junta

China has delivered six patrol boats to Myanmar’s military junta, fulfilling a promise made in 2020 to the country’s previous democratically elected civilian government, the Chinese Embassy said in a statement on Wednesday.

The patrol boats that were handed over in Yangon on Tuesday will be used in law enforcement efforts to control gambling and drug trafficking and in rescue and water resources protection activities, the embassy said.

But a former army officer, who wished not to be named for security reasons, told RFA that the vessels could also be useful for naval military operations in Rakhine state, which has several well-traveled rivers and an Indian Ocean coastline.

Rakhine state has seen intense fighting between military junta troops and the ethnic minority insurgent Arakan Army since last November.

“If these boats are modified a little bit, weapons could be installed,” the former army officer said. 

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A navy patrol boat donated by China is docked at Lanmataw jetty in Yangon, Myanmar, June 12, 2024. (RFA)

Four of the patrol boats are 48 meters long (157 feet), and the other two are 28 meters long (91 feet), the embassy said.

The civilian government under the National League for Democracy first requested the vessels in 2018.

China’s projects in Rakhine

An agreement was made in 2020 during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s two-day visit to Myanmar, in which several deals were signed to implement multibillion dollar infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative.

The projects include a US$1.3 billion deep-sea port in Rakhine state’s Kyaukphyu, as well as the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, a 620 km (1,000 mile) high-speed railway and road network that will run from China’s Kunming city through Myanmar’s major economic hubs and on to the port.

The corridor will ultimately give China crucial access to the Indian Ocean at Kyaukphyu.

The military junta removed the civilian government and seized power in February 2021.

A resident of Kyaukphyu township who closely monitors the Chinese projects told RFA that the Chinese ambassador visited Kyaukphyu on Monday.

Human Rights Watch found in 2022 that the Myanmar junta had used Japan-funded passenger ships during military operations in Rakhine state.

“The Myanmar junta’s misuse of Japanese development aid for military purposes effectively makes Japan a backer of the junta’s military operations,” Asia program officer Teppei Kasai said at the time.

When asked via email on Wednesday if the patrol boats could be used for military purposes, the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar directed RFA to a statement posted on its Facebook page.

RFA’s attempts to contact junta spokesman Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun to ask about the patrol boats were unsuccessful on Wednesday.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.