Mon 10 Dec 2012
Filed under: Business / Trade,News,Regional
China’s ambassador to Myanmar has said his country will accept the decision of the Letpadaung Investigation Commission provided its report is balanced and accurate but warned that halting the controversial mine project will harm Myanmar’s image with foreign investors. The commission, which was formed on December 1 and is chaired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been tasked with probing whether the copper mine project is in the long-term interests of the state and the people and to submit a report with recommendations by the end of January 2013.
“We will accept [its recommendations] if they have good advice to create stronger mutual cooperation between Myanmar and China,” Mr Li Junhua told reporters at the Chinese embassy in Yangon on December 7.
He said he welcomed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s explanation at a press conference on December 6 about how the commission planned to approach its tasks and her emphasis on negotiation.
“Our embassy and company are ready to cooperate with the commission so that the correct result comes out,” Mr Li said. “We also expect that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s commission will give report fairly [so that] people understand about the project and believe [it is worth continuing] the project.”
However, Mr Li refused to say how China would respond if the commission decided the project should be stopped.
He said that unhappiness over Chinese investments in Myanmar focused on only two projects – the Myitsone dam and Letpadaung mine expansion – and the main criticisms were over relocation and compensation, environmental impacts and profit sharing.
“We made a contract with Myanmar after jointly discussing all issues, such as relocation, compensation, environmental protection and profit sharing, through bilateral negotiations that meet Myanmar’s laws and regulations. However, these problems happened because people lack access to this information. So, they misunderstand,” he said.
“If people aren’t content with [the project] they can claim their wants in right ways. If both sides get angry and make confrontation, we cannot get any agreement. Moreover, if they stop the project without knowing detailed information, there is no benefit for both sides in the future.”
Mr Li said the Chinese investor in the Monywa copper mine project, Wanbao mining, began partnering with army-run Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) in 2010. Wanbao is a subsidiary of state-owned arms manufacturer China North Industries Corporation, better known as Norinco.
Under the terms of the 30-year contract for the Letpadaung expansion at Monywa, Wanbao will invest US$1 billion, he said, with the Myanmar government to receive 16.8 percent of the profits, followed by UMEHL with 13.8pc and Wanbao with 13.3pc.
He said the company had paid more than $5 million in compensation for the more than 6000 acres confiscated for the expansion – or about $830 an acre – and built more than 200 replacement homes, as well as a school, monastery and hospital.
He said Myanmar’s relations with China would not be affected if the project is cancelled but warned it could dissuade other Chinese companies from investing in Myanmar.
Responding to rumours that Wanbao supplied the weapons police used to break up a protest camp near Letpadadaung on November 29, a clash that resulted in scores of monks suffering injuries, he said it would be the job of the investigation commission to ascertain the truth.
“We should not allege Wanbao produces weapons, although their mother company, Norinco, produces weapons. Wanbao produces mainly copper and doesn’t produce weapons. I say openly, I don’t know where these weapons come from that were used by the police. I have not yet got any information [to indicate the] company gave these weapons [to the police]. Now, commission is investigating this case so we will know clearly when its report comes out,” he said.
He also declined to comment further on the protests at the mine, saying only that China didn’t “want to criticise and interfere in the internal issues of another country”, but added that he felt “sad” when he heard people saying they didn’t want Chinese companies to invest in Myanmar.
He said Chinese companies would be more transparent about their dealings in Myanmar in future to avoid the problems that have plagued the Letpadaung project.
“We will give information openly to the public if the government and [partners are] also willing to do so,” he said.
“These current problems are a challenge for the Chinese government and our companies. But we expect these problems to last only a short period and we can solve them by negotiation for mutual benefit.”