Myanmar State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi agreed with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday to work together find a solution to the issue of the stalled Myitsone Dam project, though she did not commit to allowing the project to restart.
China is eager to see the Myanmar government allow the U.S. $3.6-billion Chinese-backed project to restart in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state after five years of suspension, while Aung San Suu Kyi needs China’s support for a key upcoming peace conference involving Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups, some of which occupy territory near the border with China and have traditionally received Beijing’s support.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, began a five-day official visit to China on Wednesday to meet with top leaders, including President Xi Jinping, to discuss bilateral relations and matters of mutual interest.
She told Li that an investigative committee set up by the Myanmar government will find a solution to the Myitsone Dam issue that is in both countries’ interests, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said after the talks, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.
The 20-member committee formed on Aug. 12 is tasked with scrutinizing planned hydropower dam projects on the Irrawaddy River and determining whether they should be allowed to proceed. The commission will submit a report on its findings to the Myanmar government in November.
Li called on both nations to promote major projects, including the Myitsone Dam and a China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline, to improve infrastructure construction and connectivity, the Xinhua report said.
During the meeting, the two sides also signed agreements to build hospitals in Yangon and Mandalay and a bridge in the town of Kunlong in the northern part of Myanmar’s Shan state near the border to improve transport and communication, Reuters reported, citing Aye Soe, deputy director-general of Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the source.
Yun Sun, a senior associate with the East Asia Program at the Washington-based Stimson Center, cautioned that China’s support always comes at a price in a commentary she wrote about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to China for the Myanmar online news site Mizzima on Thursday.
“Issues such as the Myitsone Dam project and Myanmar’s embrace of China’s strategic agenda will be at the back of the mind of Chinese officials when they sit at the negotiation table,” she wrote.
“Aung San Suu Kyi will have much work to do, and much caution to take, to anticipate the potential consequences of China’s demands on both her domestic constituencies and her foreign partners in order to best promote and protect Myanmar’s long-term national interests,” she wrote.
NGO’s appeal to China
Also on Thursday, about 60 Myanmar nongovernmental organizations sent a letter to China’s ambassador to Myanmar, Hong Liang, expressing concern that restarting the Myitsone Dam project could harm bilateral ties between the two countries, said Thwin Lin Aung, director of True People’s Servants, one of the NGOs that signed the letter.
“The entire population of the country values the Irrawaddy River as the lifeline of our country, and we want to show we cannot accept anything that will affect our mother river,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The NGOs also submitted the letter because they wanted to use their influence to deter any possible Chinese pressure on State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi to get her to agree to restart the Myitsone Dam project, he said.
“It’s obvious the whole population doesn’t want the Irrawaddy to be affected in any way,” he said. “We want the Chinese to get the views of the local people before embarking on any major projects and investments to ensure good bilateral relations.”
In September 2011, former president Thein Sein stopped China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), one of China’s largest state-owned electricity producers, from building the 6,000-megawatt dam amid protests by locals over its predicted environmental impact and unequal share of electricity output for Myanmar.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.