Rakhine Leaders to Press China on Controversial Myanmar Projects

The Shwe Gas Project will transport oil purchased in the Middle East and gas purchased in Burma’s Shwe Bay to China beginning in September.
Leaders from the ruling party in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where a controversial China-backed pipeline project has prompted demonstrations by villagers, on Monday kicked off a visit to China where they plan to raise concerns over Beijing-backed development in their home region.

The delegation, which includes three leaders from the Rakhine National Party (RNP), was set to fly to Kunming, the capital of southwestern China’s Yunnan province, on Monday at the invitation of Chinese leaders for the nine-day visit.

Aye Thar Aung, a leader of the RNP, said that he would urge Beijing’s ruling Chinese Communist Party to rein in Chinese developers operating in Rakhine state during the trip.

“We want to tell [party] leaders about the problems that we are facing in Myanmar and Rakhine state because of Chinese projects,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service Monday, speaking at the Yangon International Airport.

“We want to urge them to control the Chinese businesses in Myanmar … we have to tell them about the disadvantages of the projects to the interests of the people and the country. [The party] is powerful in China and I think it … can influence the Chinese companies.”

Aye Thar Aung said that China has invested heavily in Myanmar, with several major developments in place, including the U.S. $2.5 billion Kyaukpyu Shwe Gas Pipeline project, which has seen significant opposition from the community where it is based.

“We have heard that there will be more Chinese projects in Myanmar, such as a highway and railway project,” he said, referring to a proposed major transport project linked to the pipeline.

“We want our country to develop as a result of these projects, but neither the people nor the political parties knew anything about them before they were announced. We haven’t received any benefits from these projects and meanwhile people’s land has even been grabbed to make way for them.”

During the nine-day trip, the delegation, which additionally includes several leaders from another political party, the National Democratic Force (NDF), is also expected to discuss ethnic minority issues in Myanmar with Chinese leaders, and will travel to Beijing to study Communist Party policy before returning home on June 25.

Both parties visited China last year on separate trips, but leaders from Rakhine state said that they have seen little in the way of solutions despite raising similar concerns over Chinese projects at the time.

Pipeline concerns

In April last year, hundreds of residents of Rakhine state’s Kyaukpyu township demonstrated against the Shwe Project, which was approved by Myanmar’s former military junta and which includes a deep sea port, natural gas from the country’s offshore reserves, and overland oil and gas pipelines from the state to China.

The protesters were angered over what they said was inadequate compensation from the project’s Chinese developer and demands that it provide better transportation infrastructure and higher salaries for local workers.

Other critics say the project will allow China to drain Myanmar of its resources and result in damage to the environment without providing basic benefits for the local communities that will be directly affected by it.

Earlier this week, Myanmar’s Ministry of Rail Transport said that ground surveys are underway to prepare for the construction of a Chinese-built railway linking Kyaukpyu with China’s Yunnan province along a 950-kilometer (590-mile) route that would run parallel the Shwe pipeline, according to the Eleven Myanmar newspaper.

The U.S. $20 billion railway project would connect Kunming with a special economic zone project in Kyaukpyu, though few other details were provided by the Myanmar government. A parallel highway is also in the works.

Eleven reported that civic groups in Rakhine state have called for a halt to resource-exploitation projects as well as the Kyaukpyu-Kunming railway project, which some allege will see more resources shipped from the state to China.

“We have not been informed of what they intend to do or how they will do it,” Eleven quoted Tun Kyi of the Shwe Gas Pipelines Watch Group as saying of the rail line.

“If [the government] continues resource-exploitation projects without informing the public, they will definitely face protests,” he added.

Photography exhibit

Meanwhile, civil society groups have been arming residents of Rakhine state with cameras and teaching them to document the effects of the Shwe Project on their livelihoods, according to a report by the Myanmar Times.

The results of the project, funded by local environment and human rights group Badeidha Moe, were organized as part of a recent exhibition in Yangon featuring 108 images depicting scenes of spoiled landscapes and hard lives of local villagers.

Wai Wai Lwin, executive director of Badeidha Moe, told the Times that the goal of the show was to share with the public how nature has been devastated by the building and operation of the Shwe Pipeline.

“We are not decision-makers, but we want to show the villagers’ need and how nature has been damaged by the real decision-makers: the government.”

Wai Wai Lwin said that villagers who make their lives in and around the path of the Shwe Pipeline “don’t know their rights.”

“Even if they received compensation, they had no plan how to use it,” she told the Times.

“After a few years of being paid by foreign companies, they bought motorbikes. Often they used the money for karaoke and gambling and then they had nothing again.”

The Shwe Project is a joint venture between Beijing’s state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Myanmar’s national petroleum company Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

CNPC completed the 800-kilometer (500-mile) gas pipeline and began delivering natural gas to Yunnan province in July last year, despite long-held objections from critics.

The state-run petroleum giant is nearing completion of a pipeline along the same route to transport oil purchased in the Middle East to China via Myanmar, in what officials connected to the project say shortens a distance that originally would have included passage through the Malacca Strait.

Reported by Myo Zaw Ko for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes..

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