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China has asked Burma to stick to its word on projects that the leaders of both countries had agreed on, in a thinly veiled reference to the suspended Myitsone dam project that has triggered a frantic scramble to mend relations.
Burmese Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo is currently in China at the ASEAN-China expo trade fair but reportedly met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the summit.
“The two countries should earnestly work to implement the consensus on projects reached by the countries’ leaders, fulfill their promises … and guarantee the healthy development of China-Myanmar [Burma] cooperation,” Wen was quoted as saying in the Chinese press.
Both countries had signed a slew of legal and financial agreements and memoranda of understanding since the lucrative dam project began in 2006, but after a groundswell of opposition, President Thein Sein told parliament that the project would be suspended for the duration of his tenure.
Tin Aung Myint Oo reportedly told Chinese officials this week that Burma would “proactively look for ways to resolve issues”.
Issues that remain prominent for the Chinese will be the security of their investments in projects such as the trans-Burma Shwe gas and oil pipeline and the corresponding high-speed rail line, on which work could begin in December.
Part of the so-called resolution of differences seems to have come in the form of a PR offensive in Burmese state newspapers, including a warning in the New Light of Myanmar that “immature democracy” may lead to “anarchy”.
Tin Aung Myint Oo is a former trade minister and current chairman of the Burmese trade council but his status was built during a promising military career: in 1980 he was awarded the title Tihar Thura for bravery in fighting Chinese-backed communist rebels.
A leaked US embassy cable from 2004 notes that “it is the Burmese military, particularly those officers with direct experience confronting the PRC-supported Burmese Communist insurgency, which remains the most wary of China’s motives.”
The Myitsone project had been part of frenetic Chinese investment in Burma, whose oil and gas interests largely account for the 60-fold annual rise in foreign direct investment (FDI) in Burma.
“Implementing important China-Myanmar [Burma] cooperative projects is in the interests of both countries,” Wen said yesterday.
The local Burmese Weekly Eleven journal estimates that 25 percent of all FDI into the country was in war-torn Kachin state alone, one of three resource-rich states, including Shan and Arakan, who account for 65 percent of all investment in the country, and which largely divert interest from the Burman-dominated lowlands.
The dam drew criticism from large swathes of civil society in Burma, both on environmental and political charges. Campaigners warned that irreparable damage would be done to fish stocks and agriculture further down the Irrawaddy river, while 90 percent of electricity would, for the 50-year duration of the build operate transfer (BOT) agreement, be sold directly to China.
The dam’s reservoir meanwhile would have reportedly flooded an area larger than Singapore and displaced more than 20,000 Kachin people.