China Seeks Burmese Support to Restart Myitsone Dam

By Saw Yan Naing 13 August 2013

RANGON — China would like to restart the controversial Myitsone dam project in Kachin State, with support from the Burmese people, the Chinese ambassador says.

In an exclusive interview with The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Ambassador Yang Houlan said that with permission from Burma’s government and consent from the Burmese people, China would like to renew operations at the stalled hydropower dam on the Irrawaddy River.

Without increased power production, much-needed improvements to Burma’s industrial and agricultural sectors would be impossible, Houlan said at the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon.

“If you want to develop the industrial sector, then power supply is a basic need,” he said. “Without electricity, how can you develop industry?”

Burma’s President Thein Sein suspended the Myitsone project in 2011 in the face of mounting public anger over the widespread flooding and deforestation the project would cause, as well as the forcible resettlement of 10,000 ethnic Kachin villagers. Electricity generated by the dam was destined primarily for China.

But following a series of ceasefire agreements between Naypyidaw and ethnic Kachin rebels, sources on the China-Burma border say there are signs of renewed activity at the Myitsone site.

Houlan said that any revival of the project would take place in close consultation with the Burma government and the Burmese people. “China’s view is that we hope we can revive the project,” he said. “But of course, we respect the Myanmar government’s decision and we also respect the people’s views.”

The ambassador said Thein Sein’s unilateral suspension of the project had not damaged Sino-Burmese relations. “Myitsone hasn’t affected the general relationship,” he said. “The momentum is still good.”

He also noted that under the former military regime, when Western countries imposed sanctions that made the daily existence of many Burmese a misery, China had continued to extend the hand of friendship.

“The people suffered most from these sanctions,” he said. “Not the Burmese officials.”

The Myitsone hydropower dam is expected to supply up to 4,600 megawatts of electricity when it is completed. China’s state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) plans to build the dam in collaboration with Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power as well as Asia World Co., which owned by a Burmese business tycoon, Steven Law, who is the son of recently deceased drug kingpin Lo Hsing Han.