Friday, March 30, 2012

Myitsone Dam: "Lies, Dam Lies"

Myitsone Dam - Lies, Dam Lies

30 March 2012
The Irrawaddy (

A leading member of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has refuted
allegations that the ethnic militia contacted a Chinese hydropower
investor for kickbacks.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, KIA Vice Chief of Staff Gen. S.
Gun Maw denied that any letter had been sent to China Power Investment
Corp (CPI) requesting profit-sharing on the Myitsone Dam construction

An article in the Chinese edition of Bloomberg Businessweek earlier this
month quoted the general manager of CPI's Yunnan provincial branch, Li
Guanghua, as saying that the KIA had requested in a letter to "hold
talks to discuss the distribution of interests" at an initial stage of
the project."

"After consideration, the letter was thrown into the dustbin," Li was
quoted as saying.

In another recent article, in the Chinese daily Economic Observer, Qin
Hui, a historian at Beijing's renowned Tsinghua University, also alleged
that KIA and its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation
(KIO), had attempted to cooperate with Chinese investors on the
hydropower project.

"In fact, it was the KIO that first attracted Chinese investors to the
region's hydropower potential," Qin wrote. However, "certain Chinese
companies � cast the KIO aside, causing the angry separatists to change
their stance on several projects."

Yet, Qin wrote, even though the KIO was keen to work with Chinese
investors, it had always opposed the Myitsone project, comparing its
symbolic position for the Kachin people to that of Mount Fuji in Japan
or Mount Kumgang in North Korea.

Qin concluded that as hostility against the Chinese investors increased
in the area, so too did the public's level of support for the KIA/KIO.

The Myitsone Dam was scheduled to be constructed at the Myitsone
confluence of the Mali and N'mai rivers, and would have come to be the
country's largest hydropower dam, flooding an area roughly the size of
Singapore. Some 90 percent of its energy output was earmarked to go to
China in the first 50 years of its operation.

However, Burma's President Thein Sein suspended the US $3.6
billion-dollar project in September last year after a public outcry over
its environmental impact. It is understood that the project is a joint
venture between CPI and Burmese magnate Steven Law's Asia World Company Ltd.

Li Guanghua's comments to Bloomberg Businessweek provided fresh insight
on how CPI became involved in the multi-billion-dollar megadam
construction project.

He said that in 2006 a Burmese government official travelled to Kunming,
Yunnan's provincial capital, seeking Chinese investors for hydropower
projects in Burma, and eventually approached CPI.

CPI thus became the only Chinese hydropower investor in Burma, and Li
recalled shuttling between Kunming, Beijing and Naypyidaw to settle the

He said that now there were more than 10 Chinese companies investing in
hydropower in Burma. "Our company is in China, our business is in Burma,
our competitors are all Chinese investors, the competition is fierce,"
Li said to Chinese journalist Yang Meng who was permitted by CPI to
visit the Myitsone Dam's construction site last month.

Yang subsequently reported that of the originally dispatched 2,000
Chinese workers for the initial phase of the dam's construction, only
200 were left. He described the construction site as deserted and said
equipment worth 700 million yuan (US $100 million) was left rotting in
the humid heat. "We have become a victim of politics," one CPI worker
was quoted as saying.

Yang said that bringing supplies from the Yunnan border town of
Tengchong solved the initial scarcity of supplies. With telephone lines
brought over from the border town, even the dial code for landlines at
the construction site is that of Tengchong, he said.

Yang's article in Bloomberg further went on to describe how the Chinese
journalist joined CPI staff on Feb. 23 at their office in Myitkyina to
listen to a campaign speech by Aung San Suu Kyi on the radio. At the end
of the speech, he wrote, he heard a long sigh of relief among the staff,
because Suu Kyi had not mentioned the dam project.

CPI has since been lobbying within China for the continuation of the
Myitsone project.

Lobbyist and Deputy Secretary General of the China Society for
Hydropower Engineering Zhang Boting has published several articles in
Chinese national newspapers, including the People's Daily, arguing for a
resumption of the project.

Burma "is expected to lift the suspension of the dam project, and the
state government of Kachin should give its support," he told the Hong
Kong-based South China Morning Post on Thursday.

Last month, the chief scientist at Nature Conservancy's China program,
Long Yongcheng, met with CPI representatives in Kunming, the South China
Morning Post also reported.

Long reportedly said that CPI representatives had expressed concern over
extensive logging in the vicinity of the Myitsone river confluence,
which would increase the amount of silt in the rivers' waters and could
even lead to landslides potentially damaging the future dam.

CPI was considering establishing a fund capitalized with five to 15
percent of the total investment value to provide business alternatives
for locals engaged in logging, the environmentalist told the Hong Kong

Burma's largest hydropower project is currently the Yeywa Dam on the
Myitnge River in Mandalay Division. It was handed over to Burmese
operators by a Chinese construction consortium on Thursday, Chinese
national television reported.

Construction of the 790-MW dam had been completed in December, six
months ahead of schedule. A consortium of Swiss and British engineers,
but mostly Chinese state-owned enterprises, were responsible for the
$700-million hydropower project.

But it is the Myitsone project that continues to raise temperatures
across Burma with prominent activists and environmentalists saying that
it would cause profound damage to the Irrawaddy River�the source of
livelihood to millions of Burmese.

The suspension of the project by Thein Sein was greeted with acclaim at
home and abroad, and has been seen by many critics as the most concrete
move by Naypyidaw to prove to the world that it is reforming.

However, several observers and local NGOs have voiced concerns that the
project has not, in fact, been suspended, citing movements of Burmese
army troops into the area, the retention of the Chinese workforce at the
site, and the continued displacement of local villagers.

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