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Myanmar dam project shouldn’t be politicized

Non-governmental organizations, political parties, and environmental experts from every state and region in Myanmar have been invited to come together in opposition to the China-financed Myitsone Hydropower Dam project, Frontier Myanmar magazine reported.

So far, only 44 percent of households in Myanmar have access to electricity. Addressing a nationwide power shortage, Myanmar’s government has set a target to increase the figure to 50 percent by the end of 2019 and 75 percent by the end of 2025.

According to rough estimates, the design installed capacity of the dam was 6,000 megawatts, with the annual generation capacity tripling the annual power consumption of Myanmar in 2011. That means initially Myanmar’s domestic market could not consume the total generation capacity of the dam. But as the domestic demand for power consumption rises in Myanmar, it is likely the Myitsone Hydropower Dam project would supply 100 percent of its electricity to the Myanmar market.

Relevant research shows that the building of the Myitsone Hydropower Dam will improve the traditional way of living of locals who rely on agriculture and hunting and contribute to ecological protection.

The protest against the Myitsone Hydropower Dam is not conducive to reaching these goals.

Some politicians and environmental experts who have participated in the campaign enjoy priority use of electricity, but their protests against the dam leave many others to live in the dark.

As the Myanmar economy slows down, some investors are voicing disappointment about tougher business conditions in the country. Myanmar has to some extent failed to stimulate foreign investment, with a total inbound investment volume of $9.5 billion in the fiscal year 2015-16, $6.6 billion in the fiscal year 2016-17 and $5.7 billion in the fiscal year 2017-18.

These continuous declines are understandable as the government optimizes the investment structure to lay a good foundation for future development, but the protests against hydropower stations that have resulted in power shortages and abandoning the spirit of contracts must have some responsibility for the investment decline.

Myanmar has some key advantages for its economic take-off, like low-cost labor and its strategic location that can offer an alternative to the Malacca Strait. However, if the country cannot tackle its power shortage and adhere to the spirit of contracts it signs, Myanmar can hardly achieve real prosperity in labor-intensive sectors such as garment production.

Myanmar has a golden opportunity to pursue economic development following a series of political and economic reforms. China is willing to help Myanmar seize this chance. The two countries have established a comprehensive economic partnership, in which the Myitsone Hydropower Dam is just a small part. As the two countries have pledged to further diversify their economic cooperation, we should keep the protests from negatively affecting the overall cooperation. In particular, Myanmar must prevent some people from using the protest to stir up anti-China sentiment.

The China-financed Myitsone Hydropower Dam is a simple economic project that should not be politicized. The dam, which was suspended in 2011, has cost Chinese financiers and contractors dearly. If Myanmar has no intention of reviving the project, it seems the time has come to think about how to compensate the losses of Chinese investors according to the contract. Giving full respect to the spirit of contracts will help Myanmar win more foreign investment, which is vital for Myanmar’s economy.

Source: Global Times

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