Chinese Firms Attempt to Ease Concerns Over Mega Projects

By Lawi Weng 6 July 2013

RANGOON — The Chinese Embassy and representatives of Chinese state-owned firms involved in controversial mega projects in Burma held a media event on Friday to ease concerns among the public over the impact of their investments.

Economic and Commercial Counselor Jin Honggen and representatives of state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) and Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd held a short talk and took a few questions during a press conference at the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon.

The officials attempted to set out the benefits for Burma of two unpopular Chinese investment projects: CPI’s suspended Myitsone Dam in Kachin State and Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd’s Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division.

“The current Chinese investments in Burma are very important investments for the two countries, these are very beneficial for the development of the countries,” the counselor said.

Geng Yi, Wanbao’s general secretary manager, said the firm intended to carry out the recommendations of a Burmese parliamentary report on the mine, which said it should continue if environmental and social impact concerns are properly addressed.

“After the commission report came out, it already mentioned that this project will have long term benefits for the country and people. So, the question is, I think… how we can do the project in a better, or the best-possible way?” he said.

“Instead of stopping it, if we can work together in a constructive way then, I will have this chance,” Geng Yi said. “If I were a horse, please test me with time and patience.”

He said that the firm would provide jobs, proper compensation and build many facilities, such as schools and healthcare clinics, to help the communities that would be affected by the project.

The Letpadaung mine is a joint venture between China’s Wanbao mining company—a subsidiary of Norinco, a weapons manufacturer—and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), a Burmese military-owned conglomerate.

During the past year, the project has sparked a public outcry from local protesters, who say that it has caused environmental destruction and resulted in forced relocation of local communities and large-scale land confiscation.

Outrage over the project grew after more than 100 people, mostly Buddhist monks, were injured in a pre-dawn raid on a protest camp by local police on Nov. 29. Many of the victims of that attack suffered severe burns caused by incendiary devices, containing phosphorus.

The Myitsone Dam project was suspended by President Thein Sein in early 2011, following an uproar from activists, environmentalists and local Kachin residents. They warn that the dam on the Irrawaddy River would affect thousands of local Kachins and possibly millions of Burmese people living downstream who depend on the river for their livelihoods.

CPI representative Guo Gengliang said he regretted the government’s suspension of the Myitsone dam.

“After the country stopped the project, we continued to work on smaller projects, which we have planned on the ground [at the dam site]. But, the project’s [progress] has not improved as much as we had hoped,” he said.

After speaking about their projects the representatives took questions from the gathered reporters, but few answers emerged about the myriad of negative impacts that the projects have had on the environment and on the land and human rights situation of local communities.

The media event, which lasted about one hour, was the latest attempt by Chinese investors to improve the image of their investments among the Burmese public. Many Burmese view the projects as only benefitting China and the Burmese military, which agreed to the projects when it was ruling the country several years ago.

The developers of the Shwe Gas pipeline, which connects a Chinese built port and Burmese gas and oil reserves off the coast of Arakan State with southwestern China, organized a media event in May.

The firms highlighted the benefits of their local community projects, but failed to address the complaints by human rights groups, who have documented cases of land confiscation, forced labor and an increased military presence all along the trajectory of the pipeline.