CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 24 August 2019

Print Version    Email to Friend
Bishop calls for transparency over China-backed dam

MANDALAY (UCAN): Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam of Banmaw in Kachin State has asked Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to inform the public about the status of the China-backed Myitsone Dam project, following reports of increased Chinese pressure to restart it. The $29.8 billion project was suspended in September 2011.
 
“It is the right time to inform the public because a lack of transparency from the government is worrying the people,” Bishop Gam, an ethnic Kachin, said.
 
The bishop said people feared the Myanmese government might compromise with Beijing to restart the project, which was suspended due to environmental and cultural concerns. 
 
Most of the electricity produced by the dam would go to neighbouring China.
 
At the end of January, Thaung Tun, chairperson of the Myanmar Investment Commission, said negotiations between the two governments have been ongoing. He said alternatives such as downsizing or relocation have been suggested, but he did not indicate what was preferred.
 
Bishop Gam said restarting the project, built on waters feeding Myanmar’s primary waterway, the Irrawaddy River, would meet with strong opposition from the public again.
 
 “Unnecessary problems may arise across the country if China keeps pressuring about this unpopular project,” the bishop explained. The project is not only “an issue of Kachins but also the people across Myanmar.”
 
By 2010, the dam’s construction had resulted in at least 3,000 people being relocated from their homes to newly built villages.
 
Much to the displeasure of China, the military-backed government of then-president, Thein Sein, suspended construction in September 2011.
 
Renewed concerns over the project follow a December visit by Chinese ambassador, Hong Liang ,to Kachin State where he met with political parties and social organisations.
Two weeks after the meeting, China’s embassy in Yangon released a statement saying the Kachin community were not against the project but some outside individuals and social organisations were.
 
Pressure over the dam comes as China has been providing diplomatic cover for Aung San Suu Kyi’s government over the Rohingya crisis (Sunday Examiner, January 27). Myanmar also depends on Beijing’s help to deal with several ethnic armed groups along the borders with China.
 
The Chinese government has been pushing the government of Myanmar and armed groups along the border region to end fighting to allow investments to proceed, including strategic infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.

More from this section