China seeks solution to Myanmar’s suspension of 6,000-MW Myitsone

Officials of China and Myanmar met this week to “settle matters” related to Myanmar’s abrupt suspension of construction of the 6,000-MW Myitsone hydroelectric project by Chinese contractors on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported Myanmar Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin met in Beijing with China Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on October 10 to discuss China’s concerns.

“China and Myanmar on Monday agreed to properly settle matters related to a suspended joint hydropower project in Myanmar, and both sides pledged to increase cooperation and work toward bringing mutual benefits to the two nations,” Xinhua said, reporting on China Foreign Ministry news release issued after the talks.

Specific plans concerning the project, if any, were not released.

Myanmar’s new civilian President Thein Sein suspended the US$3.6 billion project September 30. Construction began on Myitsone in 2009 where the Mali and N’Mai rivers form the Irrawaddy River in northern Myanmar not far from the China border.

Thein Sein, who was elected in late 2010 after 50 years of military rule, suspended the project during the term of his government due to public concerns about adverse environmental, social, and cultural effects as well as armed unrest in the project area of Kachin State.

“I also learned about this through the media and I was totally astonished,” President Lu Qizhou of China Power Investment Corp. said on the CPIC Internet site. “Before this, the Myanmar side never communicated with us in any way about the ‘suspension.'”

Myitsone is being developed in a joint investment of CPIC, Myanmar’s Ministry of Electric Power, and Myanmar corporation Asia World. It is one of several major hydroelectric projects being developed with Chinese help, mainly to meet growing electricity demand in China.

Lu Qizhou said a huge sum of money has been invested in Myitsone with work including resettlement of people in the dam area, site preparations, bridge construction, and excavation for the main spillway and diversion system.

“In February this year, Myanmar’s prime minister urged us to accelerate the construction when he inspected the project site, so the sudden proposal of suspension now is very bewildering,” the CPIC president said. “If suspension means construction halt, then it will lead to a series of legal issues.”

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