Home News Burma Burma’s U-turn Decision Shocks Strategic-ally China

Burma’s U-turn Decision Shocks Strategic-ally China

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Download In a very rare concession, the Burmese government has suspended a long planned and highly controversial hydroelectric dam project in the face of growing public opposition.

The dam was being developed in partnership with the China’s state run power company.

Built on the Irrawaddy River, it would have created a reservoir slightly bigger than Singapore, displacing at least 10,000 people and irreversibly damaging one of the world's most biodiverse areas.

Most of the electricity generated - some reports say as much as 90 percent - would have gone to China.

As Nay Thwin reports the decision to suspend it is an unexpected U-turn by the regime.


The Irrawaddy river is very important to the people of Burma. It provides water for food crops, and a home for fish, birds and animals. It’s also emotionally important.

The lyric of this popular song is “the Irrawaddy is our mother, the Irrawaddy is our soul.”

When it was announced that a massive dam would be built on this river, it provoke outrage from environmentalists, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and even very rare criticism from members of the government.

In an exclusive interview, the President’s newly appointed economic adviser, professor U Myint said it was a bad idea.

“It is important, important for all of us, so I have to do this. I have submitted my analyst to the highest authorities.”  

He called for a detailed investigation into the social and environmental impacts of the dam before a decision on its future.

The dam would have been built in an environmentally sensitive, earthquake-prone area where armed ethnic minority Kachin fighters are battling the Burmese army.

The Kachin Independence Organisation saw the dam as a direct threat to its people and their livelihoods and they fought back ending 16 years of peace.

The war that began in June forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

The rebels detained the Chinese engineers, construction workers and company trucks.

Despite this mounting opposition and blood-shed, Minister for Electric Power Zaw Min held a press conference in early September and insisted it would go ahead.

“We will not back down just because environmental groups are against it. I’m saying these to make things clear in the middle of this hysteria - we will go ahead. We are running these projects with China because our country has no money. If we had money, we would do it ourselves. Even if we did have money this dam will produce more energy than our country needs. So it makes sense. We have a surplus so we sell it. When we can’t afford to do it ourselves, we have to invite foreign investors and we get 10 percent of the energy for free.”

His comments outraged Burma’s online community who re-posted his speech on facebook and twitter.

Rare anti-government protests were held.

At the famous Sule Pagoda in central Rangoon, dozens of people are praying that the dam project will be stopped. The protesters are wearing yellow T-shirts with logo “Save the Irrawaddy”.

It’s the first public demonstration since the monk-led uprisings of 2007.

After negotiations, the police allowed the crowd to demonstrate peacefully.

Three days after the rally, President Thein Sein’s made a surprise announcement.

“The project is against the will of the people’ he says and should be suspended until at least 2015.

Aung San Suu Kyi immediately welcomed the decision.

“It is good that governments listen to their people. All governments should listen to the voices of the people and take their concerns seriously.”

Her words where echoed in Europe and in Washington.

Spokeswomen for the US State Department Victoria Nuland.

“We welcome Burmese president Thein Sein announcement today that Burma will suspend construction of the Myint Sone dam in northern Burma.”

But the state-owned Chinese company reacted angrily to the news warning it will take legal action to protect its three billion US dollar investment.

The president of China Power Investment said he was ''totally astonished'' and said the Chinese had followed all laws and regulations and ''diligently fulfilled our duties and obligations''.

But for now environmentalists like U Ohn are celebrating a very rare moment when the military government has listened to the will of the people.

“It’s very good news, I am very happy. It shows the president does not oppose the will of the people, I am very thankful to the government for the decision even though all we know is that it will be suspended for 3 years and could start again. But it’s a very welcomed and very wise decision.”

Last Updated ( Monday, 10 October 2011 09:42 )  

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