Amid increased pressure from China to resume construction of the controversial Myitsone hydropower dam in the far north of Myanmar, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has said that the public should think about the project “from a wider perspective,” the Myanmar website The Irrawaddy reported on March 14.
The project, a joint venture with Chinese interests, was suspended in 2011 by then president Thein Sein amid widespread concern over the dam’s social and environmental impacts. Anti-Chinese demonstrations were also held in many towns in Myanmar.
Suu Kyi’s did not say whether the project should be scrapped or continued and the uncertainty has led to renewed protests.
On March 15, The Frontier, another Myanmar publication, reported that civil society groups from across the country had convened in Mandalay to protest against large-scale hydropower developments on the country’s rivers, which they say would drive ethnic conflicts and undermine efforts to establish peace in the country.
They also stressed the need for unity in the face of both increased pressure from China and the government’s support for mega-projects backed by international investors.
The Irrawaddy reported that experts believe the Myanmar government needs to make a final decision on Myitsone before Suu Kyi visits Beijing to attend a Belt and Road Initiative forum in April.
The consensus among Myanmar watchers appears to be that any politician who agreed to resume the highly unpopular project would, in the words of a Naypyitaw-based political adviser, “commit political suicide.”
Observers are also surprised at China’s attempts to resume to project, which almost certainly would cause a backlash against Chinese interests at a time when relations between Beijing and Naypyitaw have been significantly improved.