BEIJING (Reuters) - Opposition to Chinese-invested hydropower schemes in Myanmar is being orchestrated by “extreme” groups in the country and has been extremely damaging to joint investment projects, an influential Chinese newspaper wrote on Monday.
The suspension in 2011 of the $3.6-billion Myitsone megadam project by former president Thein Sein remains a sore point between the two countries.
Myanmar suspended the project citing environmental worries, but the decision was also seen as an attempt to distance itself from Beijing. Uncertainties arising from that controversy have held back other Chinese investment plans.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party swept to power Myanmar’s first free national vote in 25 years last November, said on a visit to China last month that her new government was willing to look for a resolution that suits both countries.
A Myanmar commission is reviewing the project, and other proposed hydro-power dams.
But Suu Kyi is under pressure at home from civil society groups not to simply give in to Beijing.
The Study Times, published twice a week by the Central Party School, which trains rising Chinese officials, said in a commentary that the dam projects were being unreasonably attacked.
“Before and after Suu Kyi’s China trip, some extreme Myanmar media, non-government organisations and people heatedly opposed the Myitsone Dam and other large-scale projects on the Salween River” and demanded the projects be stopped, the newspaper said.
“Certain Myanmar media even said that stopping these dams was an important step to show that Myanmar is throwing off its over-reliance economically on China,” the paper said.
While it’s hard to know how representative these voice are, their “extreme comments” have dominated privately-run media in Myanmar, the paper added.
“This has had a hugely negative affect on public opinion and has been hugely damaging for joint cooperation projects,” it said.
Finding a solution to the Myitsone project is important for Suu Kyi who needs China’s cooperation in talks with Myanmar ethnic minority armed groups operating along the border with China.
The Study Times praised Suu Kyi for making China her first port of call apart from countries in the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) since her government took power, saying it was a recognition of how important ties are.
China is no fairweather friend, it added.
“China is willing to invest basic infrastructure projects in Myanmar that the West is not willing to invest in,” the paper said.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore