China Urged to Revisit Its Burma-Related Investment Contracts

By Lin Thant 18 May 2013

RANGOON — Prominent activists from the 88 Generation Students group have asked that China renegotiate all of its investment contracts in Burma, with new deals forged in a more transparent way.

In its first-ever meeting with the Chinese ambassador to Burma, Yang Houlan, group leaders Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and Jimmy called on China to revisit all Chinese contracts for a host of ongoing projects in Burma. The trio said too little is known about the project deals, many of which were inked under the former military regime.

“We told the ambassador that the signing of all project contracts with China was done without knowledge and the desire of local people in project areas. That’s why problems are following now,” Ko Ko Gyi said of their meeting on Monday. “Those contracts must be transparent and signed with accountability, taking responsibility for the lives of local people.”

He said they also spoke frankly with the ambassador about Burmese public opinion of China and its government.

“We told him that Burmese people are generally not satisfied with China over its support of the previous Burmese military regime,” Ko Ko Gyi said. “We also told him that we were just giving him real information and not trying to blame his government. Besides, we told him that we are hoping for better relations between the two countries in the future.”

The 88 Generation Students representatives also raised the issue of border trade. The group urged better regulation of the border, which they said is currently a black market through which natural resources from Burma are smuggled into China.

“We told the ambassador that the smuggling of natural resources such as timber, gems and other [materials] makes the Burmese general public feel that China is deliberately destroying their country,” Ko Ko Gyi said.

He said they also told the ambassador that China should not dominate border trade because it would cause anti-Chinese sentiment among Burma’s merchant class.

“For instance, Burmese traders were once not allowed to take onions from Burma into China. As a result, those onions at the border became rotten. So we told him that border trade should be mutually beneficial and that such incidents created dissatisfaction among Burmese traders and could lead to anti-Chinese sentiment,” Ko Ko Gyi said.

In addition, the 88 Generation Students’ leaders requested that China continue to provide assistance with Burma’s ongoing peace process.

With the indefinite suspension of the China-backed Myitsone dam’s construction and growing opposition to other projects funded by Chinese interests, Beijing appears to have launched something of a charm offensive. Prior to the Monday meeting, the Chinese ambassador met with Aung San Suu Kyi, the chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD), and officially invited the NLD and other political parties to visit his country.