While construction work at the Myitsone Dam has been completely suspended, Chinese contractor CPI expressed hope that it will resume again after Thein Sein’s tenure as Burma’s President expires in 2015.
Construction at the Myitsone Dam is “100 percent stalled,” said the senior representative of China Power Investment Corporation Yunnan (CPI), the main contractor and financial backer of the controversial hydroelectric project in Kachin State, which was suspended by President Thein Sein in September 2011.
Speaking to Mizzima on January 22, CPI’s Wang Qiyue said that work has been suspended at all seven dams on the Upper Irrawaddy River project—the main site being the 6,000-MW capacity Myitsone Dam at the confluence of the N’Mai and Mali rivers which forms the source of the Irrawaddy, and the other six smaller dams situated further upstream on the N’Mai and Mali rivers.
He said that all Chinese personnel and equipment from the sites have been returned to China, and only 80 or 90 staff remain at the main site, all of whom work as security personnel.
His comments come following rumors that construction work was continuing at the Myitsone site.
Asked whether CPI was anticipating a restart of the project once Thein Sein’s tenure expires in 2015, Wang said that CPI “expects and looks forward” to that prospect, but conceded that the company did not know what will happen in the near future.
He said that CPI has been given no official indication from the Burmese government of any future policy regarding the dam.
In recent days, a flurry of military, commerce and trade talks have taken place between the two countries.
On Monday, following a bilateral trade meeting with Burmese counterparts, China’s Vice Commerce Minister Chen Jian noted that “several Chinese-funded projects, including a hydropower station and a copper mine, have been abruptly halted or suspended” in recent years, and he urged the respective Chinese companies to “work towards resolving difficulties,” according to a report by Xinhua News Agency on Monday.
NGO Burma Rivers Network (BRN) sent an open letter to China’s Ambassador to Burma on January 3, urging him to stop pushing for the restart of the Myitsone Dam project.
Referring to an interview by Ambassador Li Junhua on the Golden Phoenix website in November, BRN accused Li of ignoring local resistance to the project, and of failing to recognize that the issue of ownership and control of natural resources is a key cause of the current conflict.
“China was warned two years ago that the Myitsone Dam could fuel war,” said BRN spokesperson Ah Nan. “Now that war is raging, how can China still want to push ahead with the project?”
BRN also accused CPI of secretly commissioning its own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the Myitsone Dam and ignoring the original joint-Chinese-Burmese EIA “which stated very clearly that the Myitsone Dam should be canceled and that the majority of local people were against the project.”
|The confluence of the Mali and N'Mai rivers forms the source of the Irrawaddy, which sustains millions of livelihoods downstream in central Burma and the Irrawaddy Delta. (Photo: Mizzima)|
“We are trying to abide by international standards,” he told Mizzima. “We undertake [these environmental tasks] with the highest standards. And we are trying our best to fulfill our social responsibilities [in the local area].”
While original plans were laid to finish construction on the Myitsone project by 2017, Wang acknowledged that, even if the dam were to be restarted in 2015, it would take several more years thereafter to complete.
“Burma’s economic development should be based on power supply,” he said. “The energy capacity of the average Burmese citizen is very low. The government needs to address that.”
CPI Chairman Lu Qizhou told Chinese media in 2011 that Burmese President Thein Sein had, in February of that year, urged the company to accelerate construction when he visited the project site, “so the sudden suspension [in September 2011] is very bewildering.”
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that Burma must honor its contracts with the Chinese companies.
She was recently appointed to chair the Investigation Committee assigned to assess the Latpadaung copper mine project, which is contracted to the Chinese firm Wanbao and financed in part by China’s NORINCO group.
“Contracts have been signed on the Latpadaung copper mining project,” Suu Kyi told reporters in November. “If unilaterally canceled, compensation must be made. If Burma wants to stand up as a commensurate country within the international community, it must keep its promises.”
Following a meeting between the president of NORINCO and President Thein Sein in late December, China’s national news agency Xinhua reported that the Burmese government had all but guaranteed the implementation of Chinese projects in Burma.
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