By Joseph Allchin
Burma’s foreign minister was in Beijing today to discuss Naypyidaw’s decision to suspend the China-backed Myitsone dam project in Kachin state, which lies at a major confluence of the IrrawaddyRiver.
Wunna Maung Lwin met with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, with whom he “pledged to work towards mutual benefit of the two countries,” according to the Chinese Xinhua news agency.
Official Chinese press gave no indication of a clear conclusion of the meeting, noting however that the FM also met with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. He said that China“is willing to continue its efforts to promote the bilateral pragmatic cooperation based on principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.”
Burmese Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo is also visiting China, officially to take part in a Sino-ASEAN trade fair, although it was suspected that Myitsone would be discussed.
Wunna Maung Lwin’s visit was kept quiet, but the positive noises from the meeting could indicate that the Burmese will give concessions to their Chinese counterparts on access to other projects.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Liu Weiman, was quoted by AFP as saying that the two sides had agreed in the meeting “to handle this project in the proper way and continue to move forward with bilateral relations, which are very important to us”.
The head of the Burma Rivers Network campaign group, Sai Sai, told DVB on Friday that workers from the China Power Investment (CPI) Corporation were still at the site in Kachin state. Indeed Burmese President Thein Sein said in his 30 September letter to parliament that the project, which CPI would fund to the tune of $US3.6 billion, was only “suspended”, and not cancelled.
The head of CPI, Lu Quizhou, in an interview with the state-run China Daily last week, claimed to be “astonished” by the decision, and warned that the Burmese would have “legal” issues related to the various transactions and agreements that had already been signed on the project.
The dam has been mired in controversy, particularly over the likely displacement of some 20,000 people once the area is flooded, not to mention the disruption to fisheries and water flow along the river, which is crucial to the livelihoods of thousands more downstream.
Vice President Jinping was further quoted by state media as saying that they attach “great importance” to bilateral relations, perhaps indicate grudging acceptance of the decision.
The entire project looked to generate up to 6,000 MW of electricity, 90 percent of which would be exported to China. The project would be built on a Build Operate Transmit deal, which would effectively be a lease to the Chinese company for 50 years, after which the dam would be transferred free of charge to the Burmese government. The dam was expected to have a 100-year lifespan.