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Beijing has urged Burma to protect the rights of Chinese companies after the government halted construction of a $US3.6 billion China-backed mega dam following public opposition to the project.
Burmese President Thein Sein on Friday ordered work on the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River to stop — a decision hailed by the United States as a sign the military-backed leadership was listening to its people.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Saturday urged “relevant countries to guarantee the lawful and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies”.
“The Myitsone power station is a jointly invested project between China and Myanmar [Burma]” and it has been “rigorously examined by both sides”, Hong said in a statement.
Hong called for both sides to “properly handle” the matter through “friendly consultations”.
Beijing and the Burmese government have a close relationship and the comments are a rare public display of discord between them.
The dam in the northern state of Kachin was backed by energy giant China Power Investment Corp.
Environmentalists warn the dam project would inundate an area about the size of Singapore, submerging dozens of villages, displacing at least 10,000 people and irreversibly damaging one of the world’s most biodiverse areas.
Friday’s announcement marked an unexpected U-turn by the Burmese regime. Local media had quoted the minister for electric power as saying earlier in September that construction of the dam would go ahead despite public concerns.
For the people of Kachin, the Myitsone dam has come to symbolise the struggles they have faced for decades as a marginalised ethnic group in the repressed nation under almost half a century of military rule.
Activists urged China Power Investment to remove workers and equipment from the site and to allow local villagers who were forced to relocate to go home.