Suu Kyi Repeats Call for ‘Wider Perspective’ on Myitsone Dam

By Nan Lwin 14 March 2019

YANGON—Amid increasing pressure from China to resume the controversial Myitsone Dam project, the State Counselor has promised that her government will make a final decision on the dam based upon political, economic and environmental considerations, and vowed to make public the details of the decision.

When asked her opinion of the Myitsone Dam project at a meeting with local residents in Pyay, Bago Region on Thursday, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said, “I would like you to think [about the project] from a wider perspective.”

She said, “We should not think based on one perspective. If we think from only one perspective, we could make the wrong [decision].”

The State Counselor said the final decision would have to be politically, socially, economically and environmentally sound and sustainable.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not offer her own stance on whether the dam project should be scrapped, nor did she say when a decision would be made.

However, she said her government should not abolish projects approved by a previous government just because it did not comply with the current administration’s policies.

If government of the day were to break promises made by previous governments, the country would lose credibility, she said.

She added that her government would make decisions transparently, not only when it comes to the Myitsone project, but also on other projects.

The proposed US$3.6-billion (approximately 5.48 trillion kyats) Myitsone Dam is one of seven hydropower projects planned for the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River as well as the Mali and N’Mai rivers, at whose confluence the Irrawaddy begins. Work on the project started in 2009, but then-President Thein Sein suspended it in 2011 amid widespread public concern over the dam’s social and environmental impacts.

Experts point out that the dam site is important for its biodiversity, and environmentalists warn the project would both destroy the natural beauty of the Irrawaddy River and disrupt water flow downstream.

The project remains in limbo. After the National League for Democracy took power in 2016, the government set up a 20-member commission including the chief minister of Kachin to review the project, including its environmental and social impacts. The commission has produced two reports to date, but the government has yet to release either.

Recently, Chinese officials strongly pressured Kachin political and religious leaders on the need to restart the Myitsone project, saying it was an important part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Initiative.

In late January, Investment and Foreign Economic Relations Minister U Thaung Tun said at a press conference the government is working hard to come up with a final decision on how to proceed with the controversial Myitsone Dam project. The minister said the government and a commission studying the project are in very serious discussions and considering all possibilities, including downsizing the dam, relocating it or developing other projects instead.

U Thaung Tun said the China-backed project is dogged by major problems and has received nationwide pushback. He said the dam project as it was initially conceived under the previous government was “misguided”.

Many experts believe the Myanmar government needs to a make final decision on Myitsone before Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visits Beijing to attend a BRI forum in April. She is scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the forum.