July 6, 2011
By: The Wall Street Journal
A coalition of Myanmar dissident groups called on China to halt a series
of dam projects it is building in the resource-rich Southeast Asian
nation, the latest sign of rising hostility toward Chinese investment there.
The call comes as sporadic fighting has continued between Myanmar troops
and ethnic insurgents in dense jungle areas near Myanmar's borders with
China and Thailand, including areas close to some of the dams. Although
details about the fighting with Kachin and other ethnic-group rebels are
scant-the areas are largely off-limits to outsiders-dissident groups in
communication with the groups say that as many as 10,000 people have had
to flee and that resentment over the dams is a significant contributing
factor to the conflicts. Decades-old animosities between the ethnic
groups and Myanmar's powerful military are also to blame.
Separately on Tuesday, democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was mobbed by
supporters-and trailed by plainclothes policemen-while visiting the
ancient ruins of Bagan in central Myanmar, the Associated Press
reported, but otherwise the day passed without incident. It was Ms. Suu
Kyi's first trip outside of Yangon since being released from several
years of house arrest late last year, and supporters have been watching
closely to see if authorities permit her to move about freely.
Dissidents had been stepping up their complaints about Chinese
investment amid signs it is increasing rapidly. Foreign direct
investment commitments from China in the year that ended in March
totaled $8.27 billion, or 41% of the total in Myanmar, compared with
total Chinese investment of less than $2 billion by the end of the prior
financial year, according to the Associated Press and local media
reports. Major projects include a multibillion-dollar oil-and-gas
pipeline built in part by Chinese investors across the country. It also
includes an estimated 60 hydropower projects involving at least 45
companies, according to International Rivers, a California-based
Activists say the investments harm the environment and help support
Myanmar's harsh military-backed government, which is accused of a wide
range of human-rights abuses, including forced labor and rape, while
failing to boost living standards for average citizens. Western
governments, including the U.S., maintain tough economic sanctions
against Myanmar that block investment in such projects, but a growing
number of dissidents are beginning to question the sanctions, in part
because Chinese investment has undermined their effectiveness.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei said "cooperation
between China and Myanmar is on the basis of mutual equality, and is in
the interest of both countries' development and both countries' people."
The spokesman added that China pays close attention to ecological
protection and requires Chinese companies operating outside its borders
to obey local environmental and other laws.
Attempts to reach the Myanmar government weren't successful.
The dams have remained a major flashpoint, however. Much of the recent
fighting has occurred near Chinese-backed dams that are opposed by local
residents, with nine planned or under construction by Chinese companies
in Kachin areas, according to the Burma Rivers Network, an advocacy
group that represents dam-affected communities and uses the country's
former name. The group in mid-June cited the dams for "fueling further
conflict" and "not benefiting the people of Burma," while other
dissident organizations have tried, unsuccessfully, to pressure Chinese
leaders into halting the projects altogether.
The latest call was distributed by a U.S.-based advocacy group, the U.S.
Campaign for Burma, and signed by more than a half-dozen other dissident
groups, including the All Burma Monks' Alliance and the All Burma
Federation of Student Unions. In the statement released Monday and
circulated in some areas on Tuesday, they accused the Chinese government
of "completely disregarding Burmese people's life and property" and
collaborating with the Myanmar government to stop the flow of rivers in
Kachin areas with megadam projects.
The Chinese government support for such dam projects "amounts to an
indifference toward Burmese people's lives," the groups said.
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