Myanmar Reform Group Pushes For Transparency of Chinese Projects

myanmar-ko-ko-gyi-aug-2014.jpg Ko Ko Gyi, leader of the 88 Generation Students Group, answers a question at a press conference at the National League for Democracy's head office in Yangon, Aug. 6, 2014.

Myanmar’s 88 Generation Students Group, which is pushing for political and social reforms, held talks with visiting officials of the Chinese Communist Party and called on them to be transparent over Beijing’s investments, which have come under criticism for environmental and other concerns.

The 88 Generation said it wanted Chinese investors, most of whom are state-run entities, to take into consideration the local people’s interests when making their huge—and at times controversial—investments in Myanmar.

It is unusual for Chinese Communist Party officials to meet with Myanmar civil society groups, and the talks Tuesday signified Beijing’s recognition of the role of such organizations as the country transitions to democracy after five decades of military rule.

“It’s like a new chapter for [the Chinese communist party as it meets] with key civil society groups in the transition of Myanmar,” 88 Generation leader Ko Ko Gyi told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

The 88 Generation, which led a pro-democracy uprising in 1988 in which thousands of protesters were killed, called on Chinese companies to be transparent when inking agreements, inviting tenders, or forging profit-sharing partnerships with local companies for infrastructure projects in Myanmar, he said.

The meeting helped bring about greater understanding between the two sides, he said.

“It is important to have a good relationship as we are neighbors and to protect people from the two countries,” he said.

Rao Huihua, a senior Chinese Communist Party official who led her delegation in talks with the 88 Generation Students group, said that in the past, the party only had contact with the Myanmar government.

Now, the party wants to have closer ties with Myanmar’s political parties and civil society groups by increasing people-to-people contacts, she said.

Rao had led a delegation to Myanmar nearly a year ago to meet with leaders of various political parties and representatives from the local media and think tanks.

In the interest of locals

Ko Ko Gyi said the 88 Generation Students Group emphasized at the talks Tuesday the need to protect the interests of local people affected by Chinese infrastructure projects.

The spate of large-scale, Chinese-backed infrastructure projects in Myanmar has often prompted a backlash from locals who have been displaced from their homes or affected by the resulting environmental degradation.

Ko Ko Gyi pointed out that whenever local villagers clashed with Chinese firms over disputes in the implementation of projects in their areas, the Myanmar government took severe action against the residents, creating even more resentment.

China has been providing aid to Myanmar and investing in mainly infrastructure projects such as dams, hydropower stations, bridges, roads, and oil and gas pipelines.

But several of these projects have come under fire from locals and civil groups in Myanmar who have become increasingly vocal about their detrimental impact on the people and the environment.

Speaking out

Civil groups, including the 88 Generation, have seen their influence on government decisions about Chinese investments and development projects grow under President Thein Sein since he took over the helm in 2011 after decades of military rule.

Months after taking power, Thein Sein put on hold plans to build the U.S. $3.6-billion, Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River in Kachin state following public opposition mainly over its environmental impact.

Last December, Li Guanghua, a top official at the Myanmar subsidiary of the Chinese company involved in the Myitsone dam project, assured the public that the firm would be transparent in its dealings on the controversial venture if the government decided to proceed with it.

But three months ago, the company cut off its rice supplies to at least two families who were among the hundreds displaced by the project after they supported a protest against the resumption of work on the dam.

Likewise, the Chinese-backed Letpadaung copper-mine project in northern Myanmar’s Sagaing region provoked outrage among families after authorities dispersed protests against the mine in November 2012 with a chemical that causes burns and choking.

The project is in limbo as some families have refused to move to make way for it.

Reported by Nayrein Kyaw of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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