It was a project conceived, financed and – so far partially – built by the
state-owned Chinese Power Investment Corporation (CPI), to take
electricity across the border and help industrialise the Chinese
province of Yunnan. At 152 metres high and with a potential capacity of
6,000 MW of electricity, the Myitsone was to be the largest of seven
dams at the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River. If completed, it will be
the 15th largest dam in the world. But soon after work started in 2009,
the project ran into trouble.
Environmentalists objected because
the Irrawaddy is Burma’s most important water resource, supporting a
thriving fishing industry, irrigating Burma’s rice bowl, and supplying
silt to the Irrawaddy delta….Ordinary Burmese objected because the Irrawaddy is the country’s spiritual
lifeblood, the subject of stories, songs and poems. With around 90% of
the electricity from the dam going to China, the Burmese saw little benefit for themselves….Finally,
the people of Kachin state objected because the 296-square-mile
reservoir would not only submerge 63 villages, it would also drown a
sacred site at the confluence of the N’Mai and Mali rivers. As
work got underway, the Kachin Independence Army broke a 17-year-old
ceasefire to attack the dam site. In 2010, 10 bombs exploded around the
dam site, killing a Chinese worker.
Still the Burmese government pushed ahead with the project, keen to placate Burma’s staunchest ally and biggest trading partner. Then in 2011 Burma’s new president, Thein Sein, abruptly announced a halt to construction,
and promised that the dam would not be built during his term in office.
It was a stunning turnaround that infuriated the Chinese.