The Controversial Myitsone Dam Projects: What China Should Do

18 February 2019
The Controversial Myitsone Dam Projects: What China Should Do
A general view of the Myitsone area on a bank of the Irrawaddy river at Irrawaddy Myitsone, near the Myitsone dam project, Myitkyina, Kachin State. Photo: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

China’s hurry to revive the Myitsone dam projects has renewed concerns among ethnic Kachin and Myanmar’s people. Last week thousands of people in Kachin state protested, calling once again for a permanent stop to the projects.

This latest demonstration follows several discussions about the resumption of the projects. For example, at an investment summit in Naypyitaw on 29 Jan, U Thaung Tun, the minister for investment and foreign economic relations, said the government wants to find a solution for the projects because the government values its relationship with China.

So far, none of the leaders has given a clear answer to the public concerning the projects. When meeting with religious leaders and representatives from ethnic groups on the Kachin State Day on 10 Jan, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not give a specific answer on whether Myanmar will continue the projects.  Likewise, the commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing also did not give a clear answer on whether the project would be stopped when a group of religious leaders met him in Myitkyina on 5 February.

Then who can give the answer that people deserve? The answer is China. There are threefold things that China should do.

First, China should publicly reveal the contract of the Myitsone dam projects which was signed with the previous military regime in 2006. In late January, Dr Zaw Myint Maung – Vice Chairman of NLD party and Chief Minister of Mandalay region said ‘we do not know the detailed information of the contract.”  It implies that even some leaders do not know the information written on the contract. Thus, China should now reveal detailed information about the contract.

Second, China should disclose the full list of people, if any, who have allegedly taken bribes from China Power Investment Corporation (CPI). Unsubstantiated rumours have spread that some prominent leaders, religious leaders, high officials from the Border Guard Force (BGF) and militia have received bribes.

Last but not least, China should heed the voices of Myanmar’s citizens. It is understandable that China wants to push the project forward in order to help meet the power demands of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). However, China should not neglect people, particularly those who were forced to relocate due to the dam project in the Myitsone. Their request is simple: permanently stopping the project. Furthermore, China should respect the Pawkhpaw – brotherhood – relation with Myanmar, as they have many more investment projects across the country.

Even if the government is compelled to agree to resume the dam project China should scrap the biggest one that is planned to be built on the Irrawaddy River.

In a worst-case scenario, the dams in Lasa on the Mali River and in Khaunglanghpu, Phizaw, Lakin, and Pashe on the Nmai River are considerable since a dam on the Nmai in Chiphwi is already finished.

By any means, China should heed the voices of Myanmar’s citizens and show the courage and magnanimity to accept their demands and respond suitably, for the sake of the future of pawkhpaw relations. Otherwise, China will face more protest by the people in regards to its future investments in Myanmar. 

Joe Kumbun is the pseudonym of an analyst based in Kachin State.