Protests held this week in northern Myanmar represent the latest obstacle to China's long-time plan to dam its western neighbor's largest and most important river. The demonstrations also appear politically timed, as they were held with Aung San Suu Kyi — Myanmar's de facto leader — set to attend an international trade forum in Beijing.
Estimates of crowd size — both by Burmese and Western media outlets — put the number of anti-dam protestors "in the thousands". The largest group marched through the streets of Waimaw, a town just south of the Burmese city of Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State. The gathered protesters held signs reading "No Myitsone Dam" and "Stop Damming in Kachin Land".
The Myitsone Dam project is a US$3.6 billion endeavor begun in 2009, only a few dozen kilometers from where protesters gathered this week. The project as currently envisioned is funded and planned primarily by China's State Power Investment Corporation. If ever completed, the 6,000 megawatt hydropower station would span the Irrawaddy River, create a lake the size of Singapore and displace thousands of rural residents.
Opponents of the scheme harbor a litany of concerns. On top of forced moves, protestors fear the dam would drastically alter the surrounding ecosystem and change forever the face of the Irrawaddy. The waterway flows for 2,170 kilometers — from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean — and is traditionally considered the economic and food-providing soul of the country.
While often billed as an economic boon for Myanmar, according to previous dam agreements, huge amounts of the electricity produced at Myistsone would be sent to neighboring Yunnan province in China. Perhaps due in part to terms such as these, one-time Burmese president, Thein Sein, suspended the project two years after work started, saying its construction went against the will of the people.
Now both countries have different leaders and the Myitsone project has been rolled into China's Belt and Road Initiative. Suu Kyi once opposed the dam, but said as recently as last month that the entire issue needed to be examined "from a wider perspective", according to an Agence France-Presse report.
What exactly Myanmar's state counsellor thinks about the Myitsone Dam may be put to the test as early as this weekend. Suu Kyi will join diplomats and politicians from 37 countries at the third annual Belt and Road Forum, held April 25-27 in Beijing.© Copyright 2005-2019 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.