Burma

China Cuts Power to Myanmar Village Amid Border Dispute

By The Irrawaddy 7 July 2022

China has cut off electricity to a border village in northern Shan State for nearly nine months due to boundary disputes, according to residents. 

Nawng Kham village in Namkham Township is to the north of the Shweli River and was supplied by the Chinese border village of Nawng Hsawng. The Shweli 1 hydropower project, a joint venture between Myanmar’s electricity ministry and China’s Yunnan United Power Development Co Ltd, is near the village but has never supplied it with power. 

The Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) reported this week that China cut the power in July 2021 over the demarcation dispute.

In October 2020, the Chinese authorities started building a double layer of border fencing, 15 to 20 meters apart, near Nawng Kham, citing the need to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The fence is 7 meters high on the Chinese side and 5 meters on Myanmar’s side and cuts through fields straddling the border, according to the report. 

China attempted twice in July last year to build more fences on Nawng Kham villagers’ fields and stopped because of protests. 

The Chinese fence inside Myanmar’s territory in October 2021. / NamKhamnews

An SHRF spokesman told The Irrawaddy: “The Chinese haven’t encroached since the dispute over the border fence. But they still plan to build a bridge near the fence. Farmers fear they might lose land again because they encroached when they erected the fence in 2021. Because of those disputes, electricity has been cut off to Nawng Kham since October 2021.”

Power was cut after July last year and briefly restored in October only to be cut again on October 19 after a house in Nawng Kham caught fire. 

“Some villagers can afford generators and solar panels. But rising diesel prices mean they can’t run generators anymore. They asked Myanmar’s authorities to supply electricity but they were told to buy power from China,” said the spokesman. 

Nawng Kham has 161 homes and around 2,000 residents. Villagers have been buying Chinese electricity for 20 years and paid for Chinese meters in 2002. Costs fell by about 40 percent when the Shweli project opened, according to the report. 

A villager said: “I think they cut off the power because we opposed the land grab. When we filed a complaint they said they were too busy to handle it.” 

The Shweli project sends Myanmar around 400 to 600 megawatts, although this goes to the China-backed Tagaung Taung nickel-processing plant in Tigyaing Township, Sagaing Region, run by the China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group. 

A bilateral protocol was signed in 1961 for the 2,227km border agreeing to conduct joint demarcation inspections every five years, although this only occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. The agreement banned construction near the border.  

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