Burma: Suu Kyi to discuss halted dam project during landmark China visit
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Burma: Suu Kyi to discuss halted dam project during landmark China visit

BURMA’S de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi will discuss the fate of a massive Chinese-funded hydropower dam project during her first visit to China since her party came into power last year.

Suu Kyi on Thursday began a formal five-day visit to her country’s dominant northern neighbor, with scheduled meetings with China’s President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

The dam in question is a US$3.6 billion Myitsone dam project located in Kachin state, which was stalled in 2011 by then-military-backed president, Thein Sein, after protests from locals.

According to Radio Free Asia, Suu Kyi and Li have agreed to work together to resolve the issue, amid Chinese hopes that the project will be restarted after five years of suspension.

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A 20-person investigative committee has been set up by the Burmese government to address the issue, Suu Kyi reportedly said, and will examine any planned projects on the Irrawaddy River.

The Myitsone dam is important to China as part of its national strategy to lower pollution levels and reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

However, Burmese locals strongly opposed the project, worried that the dam’s reservoir would result in massive flooding, which would impact the environment and potentially displace thousands of people who live along the Irrawaddy.

Locals also questioned the dam’s arrangement, in which China would take 90 percent of power produced from the dam – it is a sore point for the Burmese (Myanmar) people that nearly 70 percent of the country has no access to electricity.

If Suu Kyi is to succeed in charming both China and her own people, she will have to find a way to allow the project to go ahead under different circumstances.

Aaron Connelly, an East Asia research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney, told News-Talk that Suu Kyi is an icon to many Burmese people, which could be to her advantage in securing a deal that lets the project continue.

He was quoted saying: “She constantly surprises in what she’s willing to do in terms of political agreements that she’s willing to strike. And because she’s such a singularly popular figure, she can potentially make a deal here that would be very unpopular and bounce back from that.”

Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent 15 years in house arrest under Burma’s former military junta, which received support from Beijing for years. But analysts say Suu Kyi has shown pragmatism and a desire to reorder Burma’s relationship with China while also reaching out to the U.S., Europe, and Japan.

Additional reporting by Associated Press