Suu Kyi’s party mulls rethink on China-backed Myanmar dam

epa05188365 Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (C) meets with parliament members of National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the Parliament, ZabuThiri Hall, Naypyitaw, Myanmar, 01 March 2016. Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been in negotiations to lift a constitutional obstacle to her nomination for president since her (NLD) party won a landslide in November 2015. But no agreement was imminent yet, ten days ahead of the deadline for new presidental nomination on March 10.  EPA/HEIN HTET

Yangon / AFP

Aung San Suu Kyi’s incoming government is considering a
rethink of a controversial Chinese-backed dam in Myanmar and looking for ways to end a military conglomerate’s “privileges”, according to her party’s economic advisor.
Her new government, which is expected to take office in early April, faces a raft of economic challenges, not least the continued financial clout of Myanmar’s military, while needing to manage delicate relations with China, its biggest trading partner.
Critics of the former junta long argued that Myanmar’s military elite grew wealthy off a cosy relationship with Beijing that granted the giant northern neighbour lucrative concessions with little trickle down benefit.
Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) have offered few policy details, beyond a broad manifesto, in the lengthy transition period since winning last November’s elections with a thumping
But Hantha Myint, the head of the NLD’s economics committee, said voters were expecting tangible change.
“The people have very, very high hopes and then if we misbehave in some way… the people’s expectations will be crushed,” he said during an interview at the party’s headquarters in Yangon.
While underlining that Suu Kyi would make the ultimate decision on policy, he said a
potential redesign of the multi-billion dollar Myitsone hydropower project in northern Kachin State was on the cards — comments likely to
reverberate in Beijing.
The trained engineer raised fears over its proximity to an active earthquake fault line, but said a compromise could be made to reduce risk.
“If we refuse to build a dam at Myitsone we can build other dams upstream,” he added.
Myitsone was halted in 2011 by President Thein Sein amid widespread protest and the collapse of a 17-year ceasefire with local ethnic minority rebels.
On Tuesday Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi insisted that the dam had gone through “full approval procedures” and put recent controversy down to “growing pains”.

‘Only they can solve’
Hantha Myint also said it was time for Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) — a military conglomerate that runs business interests as diverse as construction, transport and brewing — to “compete at a level playing field”.
“The privileges given to MEHL by the previous government, we will not be able to give them those privileges,” he said.
Myanmar Economic Corporation, the military’s other main conglomerate, remained
outside of civilian control, he added.
Suu Kyi is banned from
becoming president but she has vowed to rule through a presidential proxy, with the NLD expected to announce their candidate for the job on Thursday.
She has shown a pragmatic streak in dealing with both Myanmar’s powerful military and controversial Chinese-backed projects.
She led an inquiry into the Letpadaung copper mine in central Monywa — a joint venture between MEHL and China’s Wanbao — following a violent police crackdown on protesters including monks in 2012.
The probe attracted the ire of activists after it recommended construction be allowed to
But it also made a host of other recommendations for reducing the impact of local communities that Hantha Myint said the new government would revisit.
Wanbao plans to start production in May, in a move likely to pose an early challenge for the NLD government.
A spokesman for the firm told AFP last month that the next government would be expected to handle continued protests by angry local farmers, adding “only they can solve it”.
Ye Htut, a spokesman for the outgoing administration, said that the government had suspended a further 68 projects recently, which like Myitsone were “for the next government to decide”.

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