Myitsone Dam ‘Not Discussed’ During State Counselor’s Visit to Beijing

By Htet Naing Zaw 26 April 2019

NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar President’s Office said on Friday that the controversial Myitsone dam issue was not on the agenda during State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Beijing for the second Belt and Road Summit.

Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy that everything related to the dam issue would be transparent and nothing would be done without the public’s knowledge.

Currently, the Chinese-backed US$3.6-billion (5.4 trillion kyats) dam on Myanmar’s lifeline Irrawaddy River in Kachin State has been suspended since 2011 due to nationwide opposition amid warnings that the project would disrupt the flow of sediment in the country’s main waterway, harming agricultural livelihoods, while potentially flooding an area twice the size of Singapore and displacing thousands of people if it collapsed. The then military junta signed a contract on the project with China in 2006, before handing power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011.

However, Beijing’s recent efforts to revive the dam have fueled negative sentiment among the Myanmar public. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government hasn’t made public its view on whether the dam should be resumed or terminated. But recent remarks by the State Counselor suggesting that governments ought to respect the deals made by their predecessors have raised public concerns that the dam project is back on track.

“We won’t do any secret dealings [about the dam]. There will be transparency and we will let the public know how we will deal with it,” said U Zaw Htay.

As of Thursday, Myanmar’s delegation led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had signed two memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and an agreement letter with China, strengthening cooperation between the countries on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), trade and technology.

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing about Myitsone,” added the spokesperson.

He said that when it comes to the Myitsone issue, the Myanmar government puts public opinion first, and will be guided by the national interest, agreements between China and Myanmar, and bilateral relations.

“We take it [the Myitsone issue] very seriously. We are very careful about public opinion as well as agreements with China. There will be very serious considerations and negotiations on that issue,” he said.

In late January, U Thaung Tun, the minister of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations, said the government and a commission were holding serious discussions and considering all possibilities, including downsizing the dam or relocating it.

After taking office, the National League for Democracy-led government set up a 20-member commission to review the dam and its likely impacts on the environment and local communities. The commission has produced two reports to date, but the government has yet to make either of them public.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi promised during the 2015 elections that she would make public the project contract signed by the military dictatorship, but has maintained a long silence on her own stance on the dam project.