China Media: Opposition to Hydropower Dams in Burma is “Extreme”

By Ben Blanchard 19 September 2016

BEIJING, China — Opposition to Chinese-invested hydropower schemes in Burma is being orchestrated by “extreme” groups in the country and has been extremely damaging to joint investment projects, an influential Chinese newspaper wrote on Monday.

The suspension in 2011 of the US$3.6 billion Myitsone mega dam project by former president Thein Sein remains a sore point between the two countries.

Burma suspended the project citing environmental worries, but the decision was also seen as an attempt to distance itself from Beijing. Uncertainties arising from that controversy have held back other Chinese investment plans.

Burma leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party swept to power in the country’s first free national vote in 25 years last November, said on a visit to China last month that her new government was willing to look for a resolution that suits both countries.

A Burma commission is reviewing the project, and other proposed hydro-power dams.

But Suu Kyi is under pressure at home from civil society groups not to simply give in to Beijing.

The Study Times, published twice a week by the Central Party School, which trains rising Chinese officials, said in a commentary that the dam projects were being unreasonably attacked.

“Before and after Suu Kyi’s China trip, some extreme Burma media, non-government organizations and people heatedly opposed the Myitsone Dam and other large-scale projects on the Salween River” and demanded the projects be stopped, the newspaper said.

“Certain Burmese media even said that stopping these dams was an important step to show that Burma is throwing off its over-reliance economically on China,” the paper said.

While it’s hard to know how representative these voices are, their “extreme comments” have dominated privately-run media in Burma, the paper added.

“This has had a hugely negative effect on public opinion and has been hugely damaging for joint cooperation projects,” it said.

Finding a solution to the Myitsone project is important for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who needs China’s cooperation in talks with ethnic minority armed groups operating along the border with China.

The Study Times praised the State Counselor for making China her first port of call apart from countries in the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (Asean) since her government took power, saying it was recognition of how important ties are.

China is no fairweather friend, it added.

‘‘China is willing to invest in basic infrastructure projects in Burma that the West is not willing to invest in,’’ the paper said.