border review | 7 December 2011

Peter Lee on the Mytsone dam and Myanmar's China ties

Most commentators have portrayed the decision by Myanmar’s regime to halt construction at the Chinese-built Myitsone dam and Hillary Clinton’s recent Burma visit last week as indications of a westward tilt of president Thein Sein government.

In his article for Asia Times Online Peter Lee offers a somewhat different perspective:

It is remarkable that international discussions of the Myitsone fracas virtually ignore the key political factor in the situation: the threat the project in particular - and central government-directed economic development in general - poses to the political future of the Kachin Independence Organization or KIO.

Lee argues that this political aspect is crucial for understanding local resistance against the project – even more than the potential environmental damage or the number of people that would need to be resettled (a mere 2000, according to plans). And precisely because the Kachin question is at the core of the problem, the current moratorium on the dam may not be the end of the project.

Renegotiating the Myitsone agreement to placate domestic and foreign critics might be on the agenda; but the hydropower project overall makes too much economic and political sense for the impoverished country of Myanmar to cancel it lightly. […]

After all, the one ally that the government and army can rely on in their attempts to pacify Kachin is certainly not the Myanmar democratic movement; international NGOs; the United States; nor the other politicians and pundits who have exulted in the halt of Myitsone - it is China.