By Zin Linn
China has asked for talks on the suspension of a joint hydropower project in Burma, saying the legitimate rights and interests of its companies should be protected, according to Xinhua News Agency on Saturday.
In a statement posted on the agency’s website, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei called on Burma to hold consultations to handle any problems with the Myitsone dam project. The statement notes that both countries agreed to undertake the project after rigorous studies and reviews:
The Myitsone hydropower plant is a China-Myanmar jointly invested project, which has gone through scientific feasibility studies and strict examinations by both sides.
Relevant matters that have emerged during the implementation of the project should be properly settled through friendly consultations between the two sides.
Environmental analysts say the Myitsone hydropower plant, which will involve a reservoir the size of Singapore, will seriously damage the environment. It is being built and invested by Chinese companies and over 90 percent of its electricity will be sent to China.
Burma’s President Thein Sein sent a decisive letter to the current parliament regular session on Thursday postponing the dam project in Kachin State for the term of the existing government, at least.
Hong Lei said the Chinese government always supports its enterprises to cooperate with foreign companies on a basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefits, and orders Chinese enterprises to strictly perform their duties and commitments according to laws and regulations of the countries where they work, Xinhua News said.
The Myitsone hydropower project is jointly invested by the China Power Investment Group, and Myanmar’s Ministry of Electric Power-1 and the local private Asia World Company. The 500-foot dam has been under construction at the confluence (Myitsone) of the Mali Hka River and N’Mai Hka River, 27 miles north of the Kachin capital of Myitkyina. Construction began in December 2009, and it will cost 3.6 billion dollars. With an installed capacity of 6,000 megawatts (mw), it is estimated to yield 29,400 million kilowatt-hours a year on completion which was earlier scheduled by 2019.
On May 27, 2010, on behalf of the communities suffering from the Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State, Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) appealed to Chinese President Hu Jintao to immediately halt the forced relocation and destruction of the villages of those opposed to this project by China’s state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI).
Kachin people in exile signed a petition protesting against the dam project and appealing to halt it on January 28, and sent it to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao through Chinese embassies in Thailand, India, Singapore, Britain and New Zealand.
But, the Chinese government did not take into consideration the requests made by native Kachin people who were never consulted about the dam projects in their neighborhood.
The CPI made the dam contract with the previous junta’s Electric Power Ministry in May 2007, without respecting the voice of the people who live in the region.
According to analysts, protestation to the hydro-power dam on the Irrawaddy has been swelling as pro-democracy and environmental activists bid to stop the dam plant using their citizens’ rights under the new semi-civilian government, which is controlled by military officers from the previous junta.
If the government inflexibly continued with the Irrawaddy dam project, there might be a nationwide mass protest resembling the 1988 people’s uprising, most observers believe.