Myanmar President Heads to Beijing Amid Reported Chinese Rethink of Myitsone Dam

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myanmar-myitsone-map-updated-jan-2014.jpg A map showing the location of the Myitsone dam in Kachin state.

A Myanmar foreign ministry official was cautious on Thursday about reports that China was willing to walk away from a controversial $3.6 billion dam on the Irrawaddy River, a project suspended in 2011 in the face of popular opposition.

Speaking at a press conference on Myanmar President Htin Kyaw’s trip to China beginning on Thursday, the official told reporters to wait for government-appointed commission to deliver its recommendations on the Chinese-financed Myitsone Dam.

Reuters news agency, citing multiple sources in Myanmar, reported earlier this week that China had shifted from insisting the dam be built to being willing to abandon the project in exchange for other economic and strategic opportunities in Myanmar.

President Htin Kyaw will discuss the 6,000 megawatt dam, one of the biggest Chinese infrastructure projects approved by the military junta that ruled Myanmar until 2011, during his trip to China, two senior Myanmar officials and a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

China is now discussing alternative options with Myanmar, including developing a number of smaller hydropower projects and securing preferential access to a strategically important port to compensate it for shelving the project, Reuters reported, citing seven sources in government or involved with the project.

One factor behind the reported change in China’s thinking was that the border province of Yunnan, which would have received the power, now has an oversupply of electricity as it switches to less energy-intensive industries amid an economic slowdown, Reuters reported.

In 2011, Myanmar’s military-backed transitional government yielded to public protests over environmental concerns—and anger over the fact that 90 percent of the dam’s electricity was expected to go to China—and suspended the project.

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who as opposition leader spoke out against the dam, tasked a 20-member committee last August with scrutinizing Myitsone and other planned hydropower dam projects on the Irrawaddy River and determining whether they should be allowed to proceed.

The commission’s report, originally expected in November, is now due to be released shortly.

One outstanding issue is Myanmar’s liability for the $800 million that China’s State Power Investment Corporation has already spent on feasibility and technical studies, as well as supporting infrastructure.

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.


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