Tue 20 Aug 2013
Filed under: Interviews,News
During the two years since the suspension of the Myitsone dam, the Chinese government has resorted to commercial and diplomatic channels to lobby Myanmar for the resumption of the project. Meanwhile, it has been summarizing and reviewing the work China has done in Myanmar.
In an interview, the Economic Counselor of Chinese Embassy in Myanmar, Jin Honggen stated that one main reason for the misunderstanding about Chinese hydropower projects was the lack of public relations work by China.
“In the past, we did things without saying anything, or we did a lot but only talked a little. Now our companies must both do things and talk about them,” says Jin Honggen.
Reporter: The Myitsone dam has been suspended for two years. Where do you see its future?
Jin: The Myitsone project is a cooperative project signed jointly by the Chinese and Myanmar governments. Therefore, it is not reasonable for Myanmar to unilaterally suspend it. The Chinese government has resorted to commercial and diplomatic channels to lobby Myanmar for the resumption of the project.
Myanmar told China that although the Myitsone dam is temporarily suspended, China could continue with the other six hydropower projects. Our concern is that with the current confrontation in northern Myanmar, it would be neither safe nor appropriate to work on the other six hydropower dams.
The Myitsone project is beneficial to both the economy and employment in Myanmar. Suspending it will be a major loss for that country as well. Myanmar suffers from a high unemployment rate. Our internal statistics show that during the winter agricultural fallow season, 75% of Myanmar’s labor force is unemployed. The construction of the Myitsone dam will bring 40,000- 50,000 jobs, which will help to alleviate the unemployment situation of Myanmar. Now that the Myitsone dam is suspended, the water of the Irrawaddy river is flowing in vain. It can neither help to solve the country’s power shortage nor bring foreign exchange through the sale of power to China.
Reporter: After the suspension of Myitsone dam, western investment turned out to be simply lip service. After serious reconsideration, will Myanmar return to seeking Chinese investment?
Jin: In my personal view, one of the reasons for the suspension of the dam is the new government’s shift to a policy balance between East and the West. Myanmar also wanted to show its good will to the West in exchange for their investment.
But according to our observation, in the past two years, the West has contributed no real benefits to Myanmar. Many western officials and companies have visited the country, but failed to fulfill many of their commitments.
The new government has been in power for two years now. The ADB released a statement at the beginning of this April saying that Myanmar’s growth rate in fiscal year 2012 was 6.3% and the estimated rate for 2013 would be 6.5%. ADB’s assessment also includes an estimate of the 2013 inflation rate in Myanmar at 5.1%. Myanmar people say that there are now more cars on the roads, but most of the cars are old second-hand cars from Japan. Myanmar has also discovered that the West cannot give it anything.
The overall investment environment in Myanmar needs improvement. Cautious western investors will not come. Perhaps Chinese companies will be the only ones willing to invest here.
I think no matter who is in power, if foreign investment does not materialize, it will be a setback for Myanmar’s development. We noticed that President U Thein Sein has said in many occasions that people should not create instability and trouble for foreign investment. In the meantime, the government has replaced the chairman of the Investment Commission and said many good things about Sino-Myanmar friendship. Even Aung San Suu Kyi from the opposition camp has said that “China is our neighbor — spouses can divorce but neighbors cannot be separated.” This means that friendly economic exchange between China and Myanmar continues to enjoy a deep foundation.
Two other things I wish to mention: First, it is a good thing that the western investors should come to both Myanmar and China. It will help Myanmar to gain foreign investment and to bridge its gap with international business practice. Personally, I very much welcome western investment in Myanmar and their fair, just competition with Chinese companies.
Second, I suggest that Chinese companies investing in Myanmar should integrate themselves into the local communities and make a greater contribution to the economic and social development of Myanmar.
Reporter: After the Myitsone suspension, there has been rising distrust and suspicion about Chinese investment inside Myanmar. How can we turn the tide?
Jin: The lack of public relations work is a key reason for the misunderstanding about hydropower projects in Myanmar. The Chinese style is low-key and introverted. Although we have made a lot of contributions to the infrastructure and development of Myanmar, we always do things without talking about them. The western countries are totally different: they brag about things before anything is done, but get much attention from the people.
On July 5, we invited 35 key Chinese companies to host a press conference to launch the Initiative for Chinese Companies in Myanmar. 41 Myanmar media organizations including Seven Day News, Yangon Times and News Watch attended. We had data and bulletin boards to show Myanmar and its media the true story of Chinese investment. I told reporters that China is not after Myanmar’s resources through its investment, but wants to contribute to the growth of the country through participating in the development of Myanmar’s resources.
I noticed that contrary to the rampant negative views of China in many media, most of the reports on this event were positive. In the past, we simply did things without saying anything, or we did a lot but only talked a little. Now our companies must both do things and talk about them.”