By Zin Linn
In the wake of postponement of controversial Myitsone dam in Burma (Myanmar), China Power Investment Corp. President Lu Qizhou said the project’s suspension by the Myanmar government last week was a shock. It will lead to a series of legal issues, he said. The suspension of dam project seems to be the latest sign of displeasing relations between the two countries.
Lu Qizhou, in an interview with the state-run Xinhua news agency on Monday, said he noticed about the suspension of the $3.6 billion Myitsone dam project through the media and he was completely surprised.
Lu Qizhou’s remarks notify the disagreement could stay behind while China hunts for more projects in Burma/Myanmar, a significant strategic neighbor to Beijing. It is ambiguous how the CPI may possibly force legal process. The company did not clarify that by way of which legal systems it will have to bring into play.
However, the Burmese government’s spokespersons didn’t give any comment so far.
On Sunday, in a statement posted on the Xinhua news agency’s website, spokesman for China’s foreign ministry Hong Lei said Burmese government should protect the rights of Chinese companies in Burma, highlighting the political nature of such a massive project.
But, if one looks on the side of the Union of Burma, people are criticizing openly against the Myitsone hydropower project at the Irrawaddy’s confluence, which is the origin of Burma’s lifeline river.
The worst is that the previous Burma’s junta together with the Chinese government did not take into consideration the desire of the native Kachin people who were never consulted about the dam prior of the projects in their neighborhood.
The CPI made the dam contract with the previous junta’s Electric Power Ministry in May 2007, without respecting the opinion of the people who live in the area.
The development has been ostracized throughout Burma because it will involve a reservoir the size of Singapore, will seriously damage the environmental and social surroundings. It is being built and invested by Chinese companies and over 90 percent of its electricity will go to China.
Even the Kachin people have a narrow chance to enjoy the electricity generated by the dam in their neighborhood.
In communities in Kachin state, guerrilla groups have armed-clashes recently with government’s armed forces and the Myitsone dam was viewed by local residents as a way for the government to start national unity with ethnic groups.
President Thein Sein on Friday sent a letter to the parliament mentioning dam building should be suspended as the project was against the will of the people. Thein Sein’s decision came as a surprise to many observers, including China, the Burmese government’s most reliable supporter.
Apart from the Myitsone dam, China has been allowed to build oil and gas pipeline through Burma to its Yunnan province, to branch out its fuel sources. In addition, Burma is situated at a geographically important place between China and India. So, rivaling with India, China needs Burma’s approval to get its doorway to the Bay of Bengal.
The Myitsone dam affair predicts the south-east Asian nation may be eager to free from China’s influence as it seeks greater favor among Western democracies.
This may be a new turning point for President Thein Sein’s government to determine which should be the most important priority – China’s backing or the whole support of its own people. Thein Sein’s decision to postpone the massive dam has been strongly supported by the majority of people.
More to the point, Burmese government and its people must be vigilant against the neo-colonialism of China which exploits political disunity in Burma. The previous military junta appeased China offering country’s precious natural resources cheaply in order to get veto-shield for its dictatorship.
So, China can interfere with current Burma’s political affairs at a junction of negotiation among political stakeholders including the ethnic armed groups. Even China can force reshuffle of the current Burmese administration to become pro-China organization.
Thus, the first priority of president must be national reconciliation and president himself has to be cautious with the danger of pro-China faction in his government.