In Myanmar, China's Scramble for Energy Threatens Livelihoods of Villagers

In western Myanmar a Chinese-backed energy and trading hub is taking shape on a remote island.

The mood at a ramshackle bar in this village on Ramree Island, in western Myanmar's Rakhine State, is one of fatalism punctuated by the occasional comic trope.

As dusk falls, Nyint Shwe, a one-man oil driller, knocks back a warm can of Chang beer and laments the recent boom in natural gas drilling, driven by China's growing appetite for energy.

"The Chinese are getting huge profits from here," he says. "The local people don't get anything. To get a big fish, [China] needs little bait."

Nyint Shwe's bamboo oil rig, which doubles as his home, will soon be cleared to make space for a free-trade zone and a vast transport node, a crucial part of China's plans to diversify its global energy and its trade security.

Ramree Island now serves as the western terminus of parallel 770-mile (1,240-kilometer) oil and gas pipelines linking the Indian Ocean with China's southern Yunnan Province, a route that bypasses the narrow, U.S.-patrolled Strait of Malacca.

With over 1.3 billion citizens and a fast-growing economy, China's thirst for energy is rapacious. China has become the world's largest energy consumer and producer and will shortly overtake the U.S. as the largest importer of oil on the planet, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The recently completed pipelines have already begun transforming the northern part of this remote island into a 6.5-square-mile (17-square-kilometer) center of trade and commerce—a kind of little Singapore on Myanmar's impoverished western coast.

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