China has started receiving natural gas from Myanmar through an 800 km-long pipeline project. The opening of the pipeline on Sunday was hailed by State media here as a landmark step towards diversifying China’s energy supply routes.

The gas pipeline, which can transport 12 billion cubic metres annually, runs from Kyaukpyu to Ruili in southwestern Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar. China is also building an oil pipeline that will bring 22 million tons annually to Yunnan when completed.

Strategic map

The official Xinhua news agency said the opening of the gas pipeline had “substantially changed the strategic map of China’s energy supply channels” by alleviating what officials have described as the “Malacca dilemma” of being dependant on an energy route through the narrow straits.

“At present, as many as 80 per cent of China’s oil imports depend on the supply line going through the Malacca and Singapore straits, while the maritime route is patrolled by fleets headed by the U.S. navy,” the Xinhua commentary said.

Six companies, including India’s GAIL and firms from South Korea and Myanmar, were involved in the construction of the pipeline.

Chinese State media hit out at the criticism levelled at the project, which passes through areas of Myanmar that have seen ethnic unrest.

Concerns about its impact on local communities have also been raised by several environmental groups, who fear that the benefits of the project will not be seen on the ground.

Criticism

Xinhua, however, rejected what it described as “Western criticism” of the project as “totally irresponsible and ill-disposed”. The Communist Party-run tabloid, The Global Times, went as far as accusing the West of using non-governmental organisations to derail Chinese projects in the country, such as the construction of the Myitsone dam, suspended in 2011 on account of environmental concerns.

“The West has played a role in interfering in these projects through NGOs,” the newspaper said, adding that “this extra cost is something China has to bear when investing in Myanmar in the future”.

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