Cardinal Charles Bo Asks Myanmar, Chinese Leaders to Scrap Myitsone Dam

By Nan Lwin 18 April 2019

YANGON—The Archbishop of Yangon, Cardinal Charles Bo, has called on Myanmar and Chinese leaders to permanently terminate the controversial Myitsone Dam project, saying they have a responsibility to protect the rights and lives of Myanmar citizens.

On Monday, Cardinal Charles Bo issued a statement on behalf of the people of Myanmar requesting that Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, as well as Chinese President Xi Jinping, stop their efforts to revive the dam project.

The issue has caused alarm among Myanmar citizens, as China is pushing to restart the dam project, while the Myanmar government has not taken a clear stance.

The proposed US$3.6-billion (5.46 trillion kyats) dam on Myanmar’s lifeline, the Irrawaddy River, in Kachin State was suspended in 2011 due to nationwide opposition amid warnings the project would disrupt the flow of sediment in the country’s main waterway, harming agricultural livelihoods, and flood an area twice the size of Singapore, displacing thousands of people.

However, Beijing has recently stepped up its pressure on Kachin leaders, saying that Xi is a strong supporter of the Myitsone Dam project as it is needed to implement his ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. There were a series of protests against the project across the country after Chinese Ambassador Hong Liang claimed that the Kachin people were not opposed to its resumption at the end of December.

Prominent environmentalists, activist and writers formed a nationwide committee on April 1 to oppose the project and warned the government of more resistance if it were revived.

In a statement in the Jingpho (Kachin) language, Cardinal Charles Bo expressed his concern at the prospect of losing the most sacred symbol of the Kachin people due to the construction of the dam project.

Moreover, he stressed that as the Irrawaddy River is the lifeblood of the nation, all citizens who rely on it would face a catastrophe if the dam ever broke.

“Our hearts are burdened with the impending risk to millions,” the cardinal said.

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to visit Beijing for the second Belt and Road Forum from April 25-27, where she is expected to discuss controversial Chinese projects in Myanmar including the Myitsone Dam. There is growing concern among people in Myanmar that China will pressure her into restarting work on the dam.

Last month, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged Myanmar citizens to think from a wider perspective about the Myitsone project. She said the final decision would have to be politically, socially, economically and environmentally sound and sustainable. Her comment sparked concern among the people that the Myanmar government would give in to Beijing on the dam project.

In the statement, Cardinal Charles Bo urged Myanmar citizens to pray that all those trying to restart the dam project understand the will of the people and not try to resist it.

It is the second time this year the cardinal has issued a statement on the issue. In January he said the dam project must be stopped to ensure a peaceful future for the country. He also warned that construction of the dam would be a “death sentence for the people of Myanmar”. However, the statement did not name any government officials or leaders.

In February, during a meeting with Kachin religious leaders, Sen-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said it would be difficult to oppose the public’s will regarding Myitsone Dam. He promised the Tatmadaw would do anything it can, but the final decision would be made by Parliament.