By YE MON | FRONTIER
YANGON — Three ethnic Kachin political parties said on Monday they sought the “permanent suspension” of the multi-billion dollar Myitsone Dam, discrediting a Chinese embassy statement that implied support for the divisive project among the state’s political leaders.
Manam Tu Ja, chair of the Kachin State Democracy Party, told Frontier that the statement, which was signed by the KSDP, the Kachin Democratic Party and the Unity and Democracy Party, is a clarification of their position aimed at the Kachin people. It could also help the Chinese embassy to understand the wishes and policies of the three parties, he said.
“We have no plan yet to respond directly to the Chinese embassy because some [other] parties in Kachin could have said that they support the project,” he said.
The embassy’s statement on January 13 concerned a December visit by Chinese ambassador Mr Hong Liang to Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital, where he held discussions with political leaders and social organisations on the peace process and IDP resettlement, the anti-drug campaign in northern Myanmar, and investment.
Kachin political leaders and social organisations had a “positive attitude” towards the 6000-megawatt Myitsone Dam, the statement said. It said they assured Hong Liang that “local people of Kachin State do not oppose the Myitsone hydropower project; It is some individuals and social organizations from outside that oppose the project”.
But Reverend Hkalam Samson, chair of the Kachin Baptist Convention, who met Hong Liang during the visit, told Frontier that the statement was untrue.
He said the KBC and other groups had told the Chinese ambassador that local people opposed the project, which was suspended in 2011, and that they would not change their minds.
“We and the Kachin people will continue to object to the dam. We will never accept the resumption of this project,” he said. He conceded that certain political parties support the project, but said the Chinese embassy should not infer widespread support.
Hong Liang said in the statement that China and Myanmar were in close consultation to “find out a proper solution [to the question of the dam’s fate] acceptable to both side as soon as possible” and that support from the people of Kachin State would be highly valued. “If this issue fails to be resolved after a long delay, it will seriously hurt the confidence of Chinese entrepreneurs in investing in Myanmar,” he said.
Hkalam Samson said this appeared to be a threat to the government, but he also criticised the National League for Democracy for delaying a decision on the dam’s future. “I don’t think they want to make a decision during this term, because the problem is so difficult to solve. That’s why they’re taking so long, I think” he said.
The embassy statement said Hkalam Samson had criticised ambassadors from other countries, quoting him as saying: “I have met with some ambassadors from other countries and found that they are only interested in issues concerning democracy and human rights, who pay lip service to the assistance to Kachin State. Only China is sincerely helping Kachin State to develop.” He confirmed to Frontier that he had approved the quote and reiterated his belief that Western countries are not focused on Kachin’s development.
Among those who support the hydropower project is the Lisu National Development Party, whose chair, U Shwe Min, also met Hong Liang in Myitkyina last month. Shwe Min told Frontier the party did not oppose Myitsone, in part because residents who had been relocated had received adequate compensation.
Residents of Tan Hpre, Pa Tan and Myitsone villages near the project site were relocated in 2009, three years after China’s State Power Investment Corporation signed an agreement to build a series of seven hydroelectric dams near the Ayeyarwady River confluence, which the company estimated would have a total installed generation capacity of 21,600MW, or four times Myanmar’s current capacity.
Shwe Min said the Chinese ambassador told him the Myanmar government is willing to restart the project, but that he did not elaborate. “We have never objected to the project. We will support it even if it is restarted, and we told the ambassador that we won’t oppose it,” he said.
In 2016, the NLD government formed an Investigation Commission for the Ayeyarwady-Myitsone Upstream River Basin Hydropower Projects, whose mandate was to review the project and determine whether it would adequately benefit Myanmar. The commission has submitted two reports to the President’s Office, in 2016 and 2018, but has yet to make any information public.
Commission member Mi Kun Chan, who is also a member of the Pyithu Hluttaw (NLD, Paung), told Frontier the president had not yet issued any instructions.
“We found that people did not support the resumption of the hydropower project,” she said.