Monday, August 22, 2016

Water Under The Dam in Myanmar

China's priorities in normalizing relations with Myanmar are shifting from the the economic to the strategic. The controversial Myitsone Dam project looms large as a major issue; it's one of many grievances for northern insurgent groups - many of which get backing from China -  yet its completion is a strategic priority for China. Something has to give

From StrategyPage:

The dam project has been largely shut down since 2011 because of corruption charges (largely true) and armed resistance from local tribal rebels. China said it was willing to make concessions to save the dam project and Burma is seeking the best acceptable (to Burmese) deal it can get. China needs the 6,000 MW of electrical power generated and 90 percent of it will go to China. There are many similar Chinese hydroelectric dam projects in the north as well as new mines and lots of road and bridge building to support it all. Burma is willing to let it all happen as long as there is minimal corruption and misbehavior. That means compensating the local landowners (mainly tribes that have been in the area for centuries) fairly. China, however, wants more than just the electrical power and profits from these investments. China also wants some diplomatic assistance. Details on those negotiations are less likely to be publicized.

Rajiv Bhatia on how Myitsone became a wedge, but is now an opportunity:
Suu Kyi visit has shown her willingness to reciprocate... Those with a long memory might find something strange here. After all, in Myanmar’s epic struggle between the military and the Suu Kyi-led democracy movement, China was the former’s ally and adversary of the pro-democracy camp. But everything changes when one assumes power. While in the opposition, Suu Kyi consistently conveyed that, as the people’s leader, she would manage the complex but vital relationship with China. She now has a valuable opening...
This is where the exceptional focus on the future of the China-sponsored Myitsone Dam project comes into play. A $3.6 billion, mega hydroelectric development project in the Kachin state on the Irrawaddy River, it was finalized in June 2009, with the agreement providing that 90% of the electricity produced would be for China and the remaining 10% for Myanmar. Due to the likely adverse environmental impact and unfair terms, a huge popular furore followed. In a surprise move, Thein Sein suspended the project in 2011. The Chinese were not even informed in advance. This was a major setback to China-Myanmar ties. With the change of government in Naypyitaw in April, Beijing has accelerated efforts to resuscitate the project.

An editorial in The Nation points to China as instrumental in solving the northern problem:
Suu Kyi can do all the globe-trotting she wants to bolster the new Myanmar. In the end, she cannot escape China's geographic proximity and its role in her government's moves to secure a lasting peace with its ethnic minorities. Two of the leading ethnic armies in northern Myanmar are armed and backed by China.
 One of them, the UWSA, has three regiments near Thailand's northern border. Not only do they pose a security threat to Thailand, the Wa continues to flood the world's cities with methamphetamines. Many Thai youths are addicted to the substance. But we could be waiting for a long time for Myanmar to clamp down in these illicit activities on their side of the border, given the deep mistrust and fighting still plaguing parts of the country's north.

AFP spells it out:
"We do believe that as a good neighbor China will do everything possible to promote our peace process," Suu Kyi told reporters in Beijing ahead of meeting China's President Xi Jinping. "China ... is important in its goodwill," she added. Myanmar will hold a long-planned conference with armed ethnic groups later this month, as Suu Kyi targets peace as a prelude to rebooting the economy ... "If you ask me what my most important aim is for my country, that is to achieve peace ... Without peace, there can be no sustained development".
Several complex ethnic conflicts -- with some groups fighting the government for decades -- simmer across Myanmar's poor and militarized borderlands, hampering efforts to build up the country's economy after the end of junta rule.
 Some of the groups have ethnic and cultural links to the neighboring Chinese province of Yunnan, and the porous border is notorious for trade in drugs, arms and precious stones. 
Suu Kyi's first major foreign trip ... has been dominated by the $3.6 billion Beijing-backed Myitsone dam, on hold since protests in 2011. Suu Kyi confirmed that Myanmar had set up a committee to review the project, without saying whether it would be resumed. "It is for the commission to find out what the best answer is," she said. "I cannot say now what the best solution is." ... (China's) Global Times acknowledged that a "real breakthrough" on the dam was unlikely during the visit, but insisted: "It is only a matter of time before the project will be resumed."

No comments: