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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs   12 March 2012

China-Burma talks underway on Myitsone Dam project

12 March 2012
 “Active” talks are underway between the Burmese government and China Power Investment Corp. to restart the suspended US$ 3.6 billion Myitsone hydroelectric dam that was halted last year, the head of China Power said Saturday.
Speaking at news conference, chairman Lu Qizhou said that once the concerns of the Burmese government were addressed, he would like to see the project resume as early as possible.

“Chinese companies should learn from this experience to better cooperate with nongovernmental organizations in foreign countries,” he said, according to an article in The Wall Journal on Saturday. The project was suspended after widespread opposition among environmental groups and social activists in Burma.

Burmese President Thein Sein halted the project in September, bowing to widespread concerns that it could damage the environment and that the project was not transparent. He said that work should halt for the duration of his term, at least until 2015.

About 90 per cent of the power generated by the 6-gigawatt plant was earmarked to go to state-run China Power, according to International Rivers, a Berkeley, Calif., advocacy group.

An article in the state-run China Daily on Sunday said that some senior Chinese political consultants also called for the hydropower dam to resume, stressing that it's “a legitimate project that is in the interest of both countries, as well as local residents.”

China is participating in the Myitsone dam project at Burma’s invitation after the two countries' top leaders witnessed the signing of the agreement, Zhang Guobao, the former head of the National Energy Administration, said at a news briefing, as part of the plenary sessions now going on, the article said.

Zhang, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, said the project would help ease Burma’s critical power shortage and propel its economic growth.

Burma now has the capacity to generate 3 million kilowatts, according to Zhang. The dam project, which has an installed capacity of 6,000 megawatts, would generate about 29,400 million kilowatt hours a year after completion, which was expected in 2019. Electricity is in short supply in many areas of Burma, which also has an outdated electrical grid.

Zhang said China respects Burma’s previous decision to suspend the project.

The article said Lu Qizhou said China Power Investment Corp complied with legitimate procedures and feasibility surveys to ensure the safety of the project before starting it in 2009. Lu, who is also a CPPCC National Committee member, said hydropower is the most economical among all renewable energies and the company will do everything possible to avoid negative impact of such projects on the environment, ensure the safety of local residents, and limit the effects on their daily life.

Hydropower dams in China, like elsewhere in the world, have raised fears from academic critics and the public on the possible impact on ecology, the article said. Lu said planned hydropower projects will continue and the designs of the projects will address all these concerns.

In late February, Tanhpre villagers near the dam site who have been told to relocate were forced to sign a pledge not to return to their villages.
About 1,100 people lived in 187 houses in Tanhpre village, located about 26 miles from Myitkyina. The dam project site is located at an edge of Tanhpre village.
In 2010, companies that were carrying out the project built a new village, Aungmyintha, 10 miles from the villages, to house relocated villagers. The soil in the new village is not suitable for growing crops, residents said, and the new houses were built with poor quality wood.
The Chinese workers on the Myitsone project are still living in the workers’ quarters located south of Aungmyintha village. Workers with a Burmese company, Asia World, are also living in the same area, according to residents.

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