TODAY -

Uncovering Myitsone to Bury Ethnic Armed Opposition Groups

Dr. Puyam Rakesh Singh *



Was Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit pregnant with expectation for something in return? The Chinese goodwill necessary for resolution of ethnic problems along the China-Myanmar border areas is dear to Naypyitaw. Opening of the Myitsone project chapter could be a means at Myanmar’s disposal to bury the vexed ethnic armed movements. It means Myanmar is yet to see the desired constructive role of China in northern Myanmar.

Nevertheless, China stands firmly while promising a constructive role in the ethnic peace process. During a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged that China will continue to play a constructive role in promoting peace process and work together to safeguard peace and stability in the border areas. In international relations, nations engage in give and take policy. Betrayal is not uncommon.

While causing much displeasure to China, Myanmar suspended the Myitsone dam project in 2011. Public outcry, Kachin resistance and environmental concerns are the reasons cited most often. No doubt, the issue became a matter of prestige and image for China in dealing with its neighbours. Despite the back-door consultations, the suspended project remained a major barrier to a friendly relationship. At the confluence of the Mali and N’Mai rivers in Kachin State of Myanmar, Myitsone dam project was left covered in armed conflicts, political agenda and environmental protection groups. Suddenly, a gust of wind has changed everything.

Recently, the incumbent President of Myanmar announced the wish to establish a special review committee to look into the matter. It is a key project for both sides. The project will create jobs, generate electricity and enhance positive image of Myanmar and China. Moreover, the vitality of the bilateral ties will see a rapid rise on successful completion and operation of the mega project. What about the environmental concerns? Minimise the loss and maximise the gain. There cannot be another better standard practice if the project has to see the light of the day.

If timing is important, Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit before the 21st Century Panglong Conference was historic and well-aimed. In addition to ethnic issues, economic development and infrastructures for national reconstruction require foreign investments. To tell the truth, Myanmar’s economy cannot rely on its unpredictable and short power supply. With huge hydropower potential, Naypyitaw will manage to tap power from its major rivers. However, China has to technically supervise and master the preservation of environment and other social responsibilities in its endeavours. Despite the setbacks, the proposed review committee is an opportunity for Beijing to prove its validity. While so doing Myanmar will be exercising its democratic norms and values.

There are two important things about the new development. First, a dialogue between the government and the public especially the ethnic minorities is a must. The topics will range from democratic institutions to national interests. Such an act will demand both sides to honour the mutual interests. It presents the external dimension. Furthermore, the new development involves reshaping the image of China in the eyes of the Myanmar people. Here, the internal and external dimensions of Myanmar’s political change are juxtaposed.

A crucial exercise for Myanmar would be analysis of pros and cons of China’s foreign direct investments in various sectors. On the one hand, China’s economic interests in Myanmar could focus on accommodating the vital interests of the smaller neighbouring nation. Such exercises may pave the way for building lasting partnership for peace and development.

After a series of events, Aung San Suu Kyi joined hands with the Chinese side to find an appropriate solution to the dam project. Under the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership, cooperation between energy departments will play a key role in cementing the ties. Though less than China’s annual energy consumption, Myanmar requires modern infrastructures to supply energy vital for economic development.

Can China provide the same to Myanmar without stirring the hornet’s nest? The mission is all about locating the exact place where the nest is resting. Any failure to do so may cause deterioration in mutual trust. One should become a swimmer first to become an Olympic swimmer. Without any sense of hesitation, Myitsone dam project was discussed at the highest level during Aung San Suu Kyi’s second visit to China. A clear message is conveyed. Both sides have expressed willingness to revaluate their desires and interests.


* Dr. Puyam Rakesh Singh wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be reached at khuman_mei(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was posted on August 25 , 2016.


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