Chinese Charm Offensive Aims to Win Support for Giant Pipelines in Myanmar

By Nan Lwin 19 September 2019

YANGON – China has launched a public-relations drive along the route of the proposed Chinese twin oil and natural gas pipeline project to pacify environmental and safety concerns and demands for proper compensation.

The state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) – which is the main shareholder in the pipelines project – aims to boost understanding of Chinese culture among communities along the route.

The launch ceremony was attended by Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai, the vice president of CNPC, Xu Wenrong, and officials from the Myanmar Ministry of Information.

The South-East Asia Gas Pipeline Company Limited said the CNPC will show three Chinese films dubbed into Burmese in the five places from Oct. 15 to Nov. 10.

The project has been controversial since 2013, provoking opposition among communities and environmental organizations.

The agreement was signed under the military regime in 2008. The project spans 771 kilometers in Myanmar with the oil and natural gas pipelines running in parallel from the port of Kyaukphyu in Rakhine State on the Bay of Bengal through Magwe and Mandalay regions and northern Shan State before entering China.

The company said the crude oil pipeline is designed to transport 22 million tons annually while the natural gas pipeline is designed to carry 12 billion cubic meters of gas. The total investment in the project is more than US$2.45 billion, according to the Naypyitaw government.

The company said the Myanmar government would earn US$13.81 million annually in right-of-way payments and US$1 per ton of crude oil transported as a transit fee.

A series of protests were held in Rakhine, Shan and Magwe amid concerns over safety as the route passes through farms and near homes. Protesters have demanded fair compensation for loss of land and livelihood.

In April, about 40 farmers in Ngape Village in Magwe Region protested against the company for breaking land permit rules and over security fears.

The company said it had invested nearly US$25 million in corporate social responsibility along the route.

At the launch, Chen said the pipelines were a positive result for bilateral collaboration on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

In September last year, Myanmar officially became a partner of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s infrastructure plan to link Asia to Europe and Africa after signing a 15-point memorandum of understanding establishing the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). China has proposed nearly 40 projects under the CMEC, including the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zones in Rakhine State and cross-border economic cooperation zones in Shan and Kachin states.

Chen Hai said he hoped cultural cooperation would boost interpersonal relations and enable the public to support the CMEC.

Ethnic affairs and China analyst U Than Soe Naing told The Irrawaddy, “It is a part of a plan to ease anti-Chinese resentment as they have been facing opposition to their projects across the country.

“But I don’t think that it will work. Chinese movies are less popular in Myanmar. Many people believe that they are just propaganda,” he added.