DVB Interview International spoke to the Chinese Ambassador to Burma, Yang Houlan, about Chinese investment in the country, local development projects, and China’s involvement in the peace process.
Ambassador Yang said mutual cooperation with Burma was important and that the Burmese people will benefit from Chinese investment projects.
“The Chinese government has stressed that we should have mutual beneficial cooperation and we hope that neighbouring countries would be able to benefit from China’s fast development.”
The ambassador likened Burma’s history to China’s, and referred to China opening up 30 years ago.
“China’s opening up and reform [process] was just 30 years before Myanmar [Burma]. So we can share our experience with Myanmar,” he said. “I think if Myanmar gets into a quick development period, they will provide more opportunities for cooperation between Myanmar and China.”
Construction of the Chinese-owned Myitsone dam in Kachin state was halted in September 2011 after fierce public opposition. Ambassador Yang acknowledged there was not enough public consultation before the project went ahead.
“The feasibility studies are not enough,” he said. “There are some worries for the dam building and there involved in some cultural issues. But if the Myanmar government and people want to [re]start the project, both sides they can solve the problems through negotiations.”
However last month the Kachin Development Network Group (KNDP) slammed a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report compiled by Chinese state-owned Chinese Power Investment (CPI). The KNDP said that local Kachin groups were never consulted about the project and that many villagers were forcibly relocated to make way for its construction.
Ambassador Yang recognised that they needed to change their old models when it came to transparency.
“We tried to change our former models — doing more and speaking less. So now we are trying to do more and speak more and [have] more communication with local people and different sections of society,” he said.
“Without the local people’s support it is very difficult for them to proceed with the projects.”
Ambassador Yang said the Chinese Embassy accepted responsibility for advising Chinese companies to act responsibly and to conduct local outreach programmes.
“We would like to give some advice to them — what they should do and should not do. It’s our responsibility to do more in this regard,” he said.
“We encourage Chinese companies to take more input on the social affects and benefit of the local people.”
There have been protests throughout Burma over land rights issues, land confiscation, and forced relocation when big investment projects — many of them Chinese — move in to an area.
The ambassador said that at the moment it was the investors who were taking all the responsibility for it, but everyone should work together to resolve these issues.
“We hope we will have more cooperation with the government and make the people understand why we want to start these projects.”
Chinese investment in Burma has fallen from US$12 billion between 2008-2011 to $407 million in 2012-2013. Ambassador Yang said the halting of the Myitsone dam and Latpadaung copper mine in Monywa, may have put some Chinese businessmen off from investing.
“After it [Myitsone dam] stopped it worried some Chinese investors. So there was a negative impact on the investment from China,” he said.
“If the investment environment improved there would be more investment here. China is still the number one investor in Burma.”