China, Myanmar jostle over Myitsone project during Suu Kyi’s visit

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (left) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang talk during a signing of agreements ceremony at the Great Hall of the People on Thursday in Beijing. Ms. Suu Kyi is on an official visit and is expected to meet Chinese officials to boost diplomatic and economic ties. The stalled Myitsone dam project — widely seen as a litmus test of a new phase of Myanmar's ties with China — came under sharp focus during talks between the two leaders.  

The stalled Myitsone dam project — widely seen as a litmus test of a new phase of ties with China — came under sharp focus on Thursday during talks between the visiting leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

A senior Chinese official briefing the media after the talks signaled that the Myanmar government was reconsidering its position on the $3.6-billion project, and hoped to arrive at a resolution that suited both sides.

Probe panel formed

“Aung San Suu Kyi said that the Myanmar government has already set up an investigation committee to look for an appropriate resolution to the Myitsone dam issue,” said Liu Zhenmin, China’s Vice Foreign Minister. “She also said that she is willing to look for a resolution that suits both sides’ interests via both sides’ energy administrations’ cooperation.”

The mega-project, which has been criticised by environmental groups, on grounds of causing serious ecological damage, was frozen in 2011 by the country’s previous government led by President Thein Sein.

Analysts say that the Myanmar is expected to balance its ties between China — its source of big ticket investments — and its other neighbours, including India and the West. China is Myanmar’s foremost foreign

investors, with investments of $15.4 billion already in the bag.

Report by November 11

Apart for the Myitsone project, the government commission that has been appointed will also review other proposed hydroelectric dams along the Thanlwin River. It is expected to submit its report by November 11.

In Myanmar, a blog in the newspaper The Irrawaddy speculated whether a grand-bargain could be in the offing regarding the Myitsone project during Ms. Suu Kyi’s China visit. It said that the questions raised by the visit include whether “China is ready to accept a likely adjustment to the terms of the agreement — perhaps the complete stopping of the project in exchange for the One-China policy, South China Sea dispute or its One Belt, One Road undertaking?”

Bridge agreed upon

The two sides have also decided to build a bridge at Kunlong, 32 km from the border in northeastern Myanmar, as part of counterinsurgency exercise. The bridge will be close to the Kokang region, where an ethnic Chinese group battled the Myanmar’s troops last year. The Irrawaddy noted that Myanmar’s “main and immediate concern is how to make use of Chinese influence on the ethnic armed organisations along the Sino-Burma border.”

An op-ed that appeared in China’s state-run Global Times on Thursday underscored that China is expected to play a more constructive role in Myanmar’s ethnic reconciliation process.

Change industrial focus’

It also advocated that China could change its industrial focus in Myanmar — from energy and minerals to infrastructure and labour-intensive agriculture. “Strategic change is also feasible as more education and medical training for local staff from commercial ventures will boost China's soft power in the country and beyond,” it observed.

Separately a commentary in the state-run Xinhua news agency stressed that China fully backed the peace process in Myanmar. It added that Beijing hoped that “all armed ethic groups in the country can participate in the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference to be held in Myanmar’s capital at the end of this month.”

“China is the natural partner”

The article highlighted that China was Naypyidaw’s “natural partner” in implementing Myanmar’s 12-point national policy paper for economic revival.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 11:44:32 PM |

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