Friday, August 18, 2017

CSOs urge Chinese president to terminate Myitsone project

Sixty civil society organisations (CSOs) in Myanmar asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to stop the Myitsone dam project on the Ayeyarwady River in a letter sent yesterday through the Chinese ambassador in Yangon.

An activist holds a sign protesting the Myitsone dam in September 2011. Photo: EPAAn activist holds a sign protesting the Myitsone dam in September 2011. Photo: EPA

“China will not neglect our request. I believe this because of the two countries’ relationship,” U Thwin Lin Aung, director of the CSO Genuine People’s Servants, told The Myanmar Times yesterday. “And Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also would not neglect the public’s desire. She will implement our desire.”

The letter comes during State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip to Beijing this week, where the matter is expected to be discussed.

Though Myanmar’s domestic political landscape, and the bilateral relationship between the two nations, is much changed since the controversial Myitsone project was suspended in 2011, environmentalists have remained steadfast in opposition to it.

“Rejection is better,” said U Myo Thant, secretary of the Myanmar Earthquake Committee. “EIA/SIA [environmental and social impact assessments] should be done specifically with experts in various sectors to decide the future of the project.”

His concerns are also seismological: The dam is sited in Kachin State near the Sagaing Fault, prompting fears that a large earthquake could seriously damage the structure, possibly sending waters from its reservoir flooding downstream.

The reservoir itself is part of the problem, he said, with the accumulated water from the dam weighing on the earth’s crust and increasing the likelihood of seismic activity.

While U Myo Thant argues that the earthquake risk is one of the most important factors for the government to consider, others point out that the area to be submerged by the reservoir would lead to the displacement of thousands of people.

Last week President U Htin Kyaw formed a commission to assess Myitsone and other dams along the Ayeyarwady River, with a report of its findings expected in November.

Though it was the president who officially ordered its formation, there is no doubt among environmentalists and activists that it is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who will decide the Myitsone’s fate.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported last week that the director general of the Political Affairs Department, U Kyaw Zeya, said it was “highly likely” that a discussion about Myitsone would take place during the foreign minister’s trip to China.

The state counsellor met with Premier Li Keqiang yesterday in Beijing but a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not mention discussion of the dam. According to the Myanmar foreign ministry, she will meet with the Chinese president today.

“I don’t think the government is positively considering continuing the Myitsone dam project, because some of the activists like U Maung Maung Gyee and U Cho Cho were expert activists in opposing the Myitsone dam project,” said Amyotha Hluttaw lawmaker Saw Moe Myint (NLD; Kayin 1), who is also a member of the Myanmar Green Network.

He added that an EIA/SIA should not be conducted only for the Myitkyina area – where the proposed dam is cited – but also for the entirety of the Ayeyarwady River, taking into account downstream impacts.

“I don’t want to be blamed by future generations. I will stand on the side of thoroughly rejecting the Myitsone dam project,” said U Kyaw Nyein, executive committee member of the Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association, adding that he had concluded that the negative consequences of the project going forward outweighed the benefits for Myanmar.

“China could have done this [built a mega-dam] in their country but they didn’t do it because of the worries about their environment,” said U Win Htut Zaw of the Myanmar Green Network.

Pre-construction works for the US$3.6 billion Myitsone dam began in 2009 and the project was suspended two years later, with then-president U Thein Sein bowing to growing public anger over the project. In addition to concerns about its environmental and social impacts, many in Myanmar balked at the terms of an agreement that would see some 90 percent of the electricity generated by the Myitsone dam exported to China.

Yesterday’s open letter was organised by the Former Political Prisoners Society and other CSOs, as well as a handful of concerned individuals.

It asked the Chinese government to supervise Chinese businesses investing in Myanmar and enforce rules of conduct as if the enterprises were working on their own soil. A positive resolution of the Myitsone dam project would foster growth in the two countries’ relationship, it said.