Chinese NGOs Travel to Myanmar

China Development Brief, No. 53 (Spring 2012)

中文 English

This article highlights a growing interest among China’s NGOs in the regional and global impact of China’s economic expansion overseas, and in engaging with other actors and issues outside of China.

From June 23-30, 2011, the environmental NGO, Green Watershed, conducted a study of Chinese investment projects in Myanmar. The group traveled to Yangon, Mandalay, Rakhine and other places, meeting with local NGOs, community representatives, representatives of ethnic minorities, representatives of industry associations, the news media, and staff from Chinese companies with investment projects under construction. During the visit, the armed conflict broke out in the Kachin areas, so the Myitsone hydropower project inspection tour had to be canceled.
The group visited Chinese hydropower, oil and gas projects in Myanmar, looking at the influence of the projects on local residents, and listened and exchanged views with stakeholders in the projects. The final report suggested that Chinese investment in Burma should pay attention to environmental and social impact assessments, conflict risk assessment, and focus on the interests of the people of Myanmar, and the proper handling of relations between the Myanmar government and its citizens. The report also calls for strengthening exchanges and cooperation between Chinese and Myanmar NGOs to jointly promote the sustainable development of China’s overseas investment.

Chinese oil and natural gas projects in Myanmar

Data shows that China is currently involved in at least 20 oil and gas projects in Myanmar, mostly on the west coast of Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean. This includes the investment of about seven Chinese companies, including PetroChina, Sinopec, and CNOOC. The investment structure of these projects is extremely complex. In addition to domestic companies, many foreign companies are also involved, including shareholders from Myanmar, Singapore, India, and South Korea. China is using Myanmar as the starting point for construction of the 2380 km-long oil and gas pipeline project (over 700 km of the pipeline will pass through Myanmar) with Kyaukpyu Island as a starting point. The project includes the deep-water port terminals, rail, airports, logistics, steel, petrochemical, highway and other industrial clusters and infrastructure. To complement these projects, CITIC Group has started the Kyaukpyu Island Economic and Technological Development project. The three major oil companies, Sinopec, PetroChina, CNOOC also have offshore oil and gas fields in Rakhine State, the right to develop oil and gas projects in Sagaing Province, and other places.

Currently, the China oil and gas terminal project is under heavy construction, and the impact on the local environment has been highlighted. The 700-km pipeline project has not yet started on a major scale, but once it does, the impact will also be enormous.

On Kyaukpyu Island, the group visited the Chinese natural gas project site constructed by Korean companies, and China Petroleum’s deepwater port site, and contacted several local and international public interest organizations. The group learned that the islanders do not quite understand the project, and local and international organizations are not very well informed. As these are poor areas, foreign companies provide some social services to improve public relations, but local residents stated that the Korean company carried out a number of public service projects, while Chinese companies did not and basically do not hire local workers. According to the Chinese project staff, funds from the company provided to the Government of Myanmar went to build a health clinic that is now idle. Providing funding directly to the government is China’s established practice, and the company is aware of the drawbacks; but this approach has not changed in order to keep good relations with the Myanmar government.

As oil and gas pipeline projects affect a large area of Myanmar territory and its stakeholders, their environmental and social impacts cannot be overlooked. Myanmar NGOs have emphasized paying attention to reducing the environmental and social impacts of the projects, and encouraging China to establish relations with local residents through public service projects.

Chinese mineral development in Myanmar

The group’s visit did not focus on mineral development, but they did receive some information from interviews.

China’s Ministry of Land and Resources and Myanmar’s mining sector signed a memorandum of understanding on the development of Myanmar’s mining industry and mineral resources. China’s mineral development projects in Myanmar are on a smaller scale than its investment in hydropower, oil and gas projects. Local Kachin and Lahu organizations report that the Chinese companies, Beijixing, Hairixing, and Changwei are conducting mining activities in the states of Kachin and Shan.

Currently, the Chinese companies involved in the mining industry in Myanmar are mining and processing nonferrous metals. Rare metals and coal mining will develop rapidly, with the increased capacity of electricity supply in Myanmar. This trend has increased the concerns of NGOs in Myanmar. During the visit, the group found that Myanmar NGOs are very worried that the construction of hydropower stations by Chinese in Myanmar will further stimulate mining activity, and exacerbate environmental destruction and the disappearance of forest vegetation.

Chinese hydropower projects in Myanmar

The capacity of the hydropower resources in Myanmar can be developed to about 50 million kilowatts, and the economy can be developed to about 40 million kilowatts mainly in the northern Kachin State and eastern Shan State, focused on the Irrawaddy and Salween tributaries of these rivers that originate in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in China.

The Irrawaddy, Burma’s largest river, is the mother river of the people of Myanmar. There are upstream points east and west of the source. The eastern source is Meikai En Jiang, China’s domestic segment called Dulong River, and the western source from Myanmar, the Mai Li Jiang. After the confluence of the two rivers in northern Myitkyina, the Irrawaddy flows through the north and south of Myanmar, and empties in the southern alluvial plain into the Andaman Sea in the Indian Ocean. The river has a total length of 2,327 km, and drainage area of ​​431,000 square kilometers, accounting for 60 percent of the land area of ​​Myanmar. The annual average flow of 455 billion cubic meters is 40% of Myanmar’s total river runoff.

There is no watershed planning along the Irrawaddy, nor a plan for hydropower development. According to statistics, the China Power Investment Corporation is already developing hydropower in the tributaries of the Irrawaddy, on the Mali and N’Mai Rivers. The company is also planning a Myitsone power plant with a capacity of 4.1 million kilowatts for a total installed capacity of 16.5 million kilowatts. In addition, Chinese companies are also developing hydropower dams on the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy, on the Shweli and the Taiping Rivers.

The Salween River is Myanmar’s second largest river. It empties into the Andaman Sea in southern Myanmar. China’s Nujiang River, originating in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, is on its upper reach. The Nujiang and Salween have a total length of 3,673 km, of which 2,020 km are in China. According to initial research, there are six hydropower dams planned for the Salween River, with a total installed capacity of 15.81 million kilowatts.

Currently, China Southern Power Grid, Huaneng Group, China Power Investment Group, Datang Group, and the Water Resources and Hydropower Construction Group are investing in the development of hydropower in Myanmar.

Tai Ping River Power Station (Datang Holdings)

In August 2010 the power plant began generating power, and was completely finished in January 2011. However, in early May 2011, the Taiping River Power Plant was the site of an armed conflict between the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar government forces. The “low-level” fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has continued on intermittently for a year. It is reported that China has evacuated more than 100 people from the region.

Myitsone Hydropower Station

The Myitsone hydropower station in Kachin, constructed by the China Power Investment Corporation, has been met with strong opposition.  The location of the power plant on the upstream stretches of  the Irrawaddy River in northern Myanmar is sacred to the Kachin people. The Myitsone dam site will flood important historical and cultural heritage sites in Kachin, and also cause irreversible ecological change for the Kachin people living in the basin. The Kachin State capital is located 50 kilometers downstream of the dam. Thus the dam has become a security risk for the local residents. Further downstream on the vast plain and delta region of Myanmar, there are ethnic enclaves, where a series of dams will control the most important rivers in Myanmar, leading to changes to agriculture, transport, fishing and breeding patterns that have been in place for centuries. As a result, since the beginning of construction, Kachin organizations, environmental protection experts, social activists and people in the basin opposed and strongly criticized the dam.

There are now different coalitions forming in Myanmar to oppose the dam, including Myanmar Rivers Network, the Kachin Development Network, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and environmental protection, democracy and media groups. These organizations continue to express their views and concerns.

Reflections on the Study Trip

(1) On Chinese investment in Myanmar

For Chinese investment in Myanmar to smoothly reach its goals, there should be a clearer understanding of Myanmar’s national conditions, attention to environmental and social impact assessments, carrying out sustainable development concepts in investment activities, actively fulfilling social responsibilities, and establishing a positive national and corporate image. The group believes that the following points are worth noting:

(a) Regarding environmental and social impact assessments, the groups we met all mentioned the environmental problems related to investments. . Although Myanmar has yet to develop the notion of environmental assessment and mature legal mechanisms, people still uphold environmental standards in their hearts, and Chinese companies should not ignore this standard. They should at least adhere to standards of international best practices and principles to limit and control their investment behavior. It is understood that the Chinese side has conducted an environmental assessment on the Myitsone Dam project, and the preliminary conclusion is that the project caused a huge threat to the environment. Although there has been no formal announcement, the environmental assessment report has still been widely circulated among social groups and NGOs. However, China does not agree with the recommendation of the environmental assessment to suspend the project, but rather continues to push it forward. Such an approach, even in China, is in violation of relevant laws.  Within Myanmar, there were strong reactions to the disregard the Chinese company showed for the environmental assessment process.

(b) On whether to conduct a conflict risk assessment: This investment should first consider the problem of minority-controlled areas in Myanmar. As Myanmar’s ethnic tensions increase, these become very sensitive areas for investment, due to the unstable political situation. The investment risk in Libya serves as a lesson. Improper investment practices in Myanmar could intensify the conflict. Among the relevant principles that the international community has already established, many are related to avoiding investment in areas of conflict. For example, the World Bank and the World Commission on Dams recommends that investors withdraw from risk areas to avoid potentially escalating the conflict. In Myanmar, the governments in ethnic regions maintain close relations with China, and the Chinese state owned key companies maintain good trade and political relations with the Myanmar government, and invest in areas of conflict. This makes it easy to introduce misunderstandings among the parties in Myanmar. For example, there is now much mistrust and suspicion from the Myanmar government and Kachin organizations towards the positions of Chinese enterprises and government. In such circumstances, China’s investment in Myanmar should be guided by a conflict risk assessment.

(c) On paying attention to the core interests of the people of Myanmar. In the course of our visit, the Burmese people from all walks of life mentioned how the Irrawaddy River is the mother river and one of the country’s core interests, just as the Yangtze River has been regarded as the mother river of China and Chinese people. The information we got is that almost all of them are opposed to the Myitsone dam construction, as the project has not been understood, accepted, or endorsed by the majority of the people of Myanmar. For the people of Myanmar to fully enjoy the right to know and participate in the discussion on the Myitsone dam project, it is very important that the Myanmar government avoids actions contrary to the interests of the people of Myanmar when deciding on the future of the river and destiny of the people who live near it.

(d) On appropriately handling relations with the Myanmar government and people of Myanmar. On the one hand, there are challenges facing Chinese companies investing in Myanmar, such as corruption in the Myanmar government. On the other hand, Myanmar’s rich resources are very tempting, while local citizens are becoming increasingly aware of their human rights and right to participate. Chinese companies and corrupt officials in Myanmar made a number of development decisions without the knowledge of the public, which has stirred up public discontent towards Chinese companies. In some areas, even if the Chinese company provides aid or donations, because these activities are carried out through an unpopular government, the public has no knowledge of or access to the correct information; and the projects do not really benefit the ordinary people. During interviews, we learned that the Korean companies and the Government of India have extensive contacts with the people in Myanmar, to obtain public understanding and goodwill. Meanwhile the Chinese and the Chinese government’s image in the minds of the people is just the opposite. Chinese companies (especially those companies whose investments have a significant impact on the local community and environment) fail to gain the understanding of the local population and thereby establish a healthy relationship.

(2). On the exchange and cooperation between Chinese and Myanmar NGOs

The real situation in Myanmar could be communicated to Chinese officials by Chinese NGOs to disclose the truth and promote better overseas investment behavior. However, communication between the two countries’ NGOs is limited, especially compared to official exchanges. During interviews, we felt the strong desire of local NGOs to communicate with their Chinese counterparts. In fact, such exchanges are beneficial to both countries’ NGOs. On the one hand, Myanmar NGOs need to understand the world (especially the real issues facing similar third world countries). Foreign exchange is a good channel, and they can learn from Chinese NGOs’ experience. Myanmar today has many similarities with China before the reform and opening up period. Chinese NGOs’ knowledge of that period can be useful for Myanmar NGOs to play a better role in the current situation. Also, due to information technology, some NGOs in Myanmar have been exposed to international NGO activities and ideas, and have applied them locally. This experience could also be useful for Chinese NGOs. Thus, communication between the two can be mutually beneficial. We sincerely hope that such exchanges can be further expanded.  This will require the joint efforts of both Chinese and Myanmar NGOs.

(Based on a June 2011 Myanmar Visit Report Summary. For more information you may contact: Yu Chen, . )


于晓刚 陈渝 杨勇
2011年6月23日至30日,云南大众流域主任于晓刚、项目官员陈渝、攀枝花横断山研究会会长杨勇组成考察组,对缅甸中国投资项目进行了考察调研。考察 组前往仰光、曼德勒、若开邦等地,与当地NGO、社区代表、少数民族代表、行业协会代表、新闻媒体和中国公司人员进行了广泛接触,考察了正在建设的中国投 资项目。考察期间由于克钦地区发生武装冲突,密松水电项目考察行程取消。
考察组主要对中国在缅水电、石油天然气项目及其他投资行为对当地人的影响进行了调研,以听取缅甸各方对中国项目的看法为主并就各方提出的问题进行了交流。 报告提出,中国在缅投资应重视环境和社会影响评价,进行冲突风险评估,并关注缅甸人民的核心利益,恰当处理与缅甸政府和缅甸人民的关系。报告还呼吁加强中 缅两国NGO之间的交流协作,共同推动中国海外投资的可持续发展。
资料显示,中国目前在缅甸至少有近20个石油、天然气项目,主要分布在缅甸西部沿海和印度洋孟加拉湾,包括中石油、中石化、中海油在内的大约7家中国公司参与这些项目的投资。这些项目投资结构极其复杂,除国内公司外,不少国外公司也参与其中,股东有缅甸、新加坡、印度、韩国等。中国以缅甸为起点建设的长达 2 380公里的石油天然气管道项目(其中缅甸境内700多公里)以皎漂岛为起点,包括深水港码头、铁路、机场、物流、钢铁、石油化工、高速公路等产业集 群和基础设施。与之互补的中信集团在皎漂岛经济技术开发区项目已开始启动。中石化、中石油、中海油三大石油公司在若开邦近海5个油气田获得开发权,在实皆省等地也有油气项目。
在皎漂岛,考察组访问了韩国公司承建的中国天然气项目工地、中国石油深水港码头工地,同时接触了几个当地及国际公益组织。通过与当地人接触,考察组了解 到,岛上居民对中国的工程不甚了解,甚至当地及国际公益组织对该项目也不甚知情。由于地处贫困地区,外国公司都会为当地提供一些社会服务以建立公共关系, 但当地居民反映,韩国公司做了一些公益项目,没见到中国公司有所行动,也基本不雇佣当地工人。据中国项目人员反映,中国公司将公益款项拨付给了缅甸政府, 由后者兴建的卫生所一直处于闲置状态。将公益款项交由缅甸政府管理和使用是中国公司的一贯做法,中国公司也清楚其中的弊病,但出于维持与缅甸政府良好关系 的考虑,这种做法一直没有改变。
缅甸全国水能资源可开发容量约5 000万千瓦,经济可开发量约4 000万千瓦,主要分布在北部克钦邦、东部掸邦,集中于伊洛瓦底江和萨尔温江干支流,这些河流均发源于中国青藏高原。
伊洛瓦底江是缅甸最大的河流,是缅甸人民的母亲河。上游分东西两源,东源为梅开恩江,中国境内段叫独龙江,西源源自缅甸境内的迈立开江。两源在密支那北部 汇合后称伊洛瓦底江,贯穿缅甸南北,在南部形成冲积平原注入印度洋安达曼海,全长2 327公里,流域面积43.1万平方公里,占缅甸国土面积60%。多年平均流量4 550亿立方米,占全缅甸河川总径流量的40%。
据了解,伊洛瓦底江没有进行流域规划,更没有完整的水电开发规划。然而据资料显示,中国电力投资公司已在伊洛瓦底江上游的梅开恩江和迈立开江进行水电开 发,梅开恩江开发梯级规划为5级,并在两江汇合后规划1级密松电站410万千瓦,总装机1 650万千瓦。另外,中国公司还在伊洛瓦底江上游的部分支流 ——瑞丽江和太平江上参与水电梯级开发。
萨尔温江是缅甸第二大河流,上游为我国的怒江,发源于青藏高原腹地,进入缅甸后经缅泰边境在缅甸南部入安达曼海。怒江—萨尔温江全长3 673公里,其中 中国境内长2 020公里。据初步了解,缅甸境内萨尔温江规划6级开发,总装机1 581万千瓦。同样,怒江—萨尔温江没有进行流域规划。
该电站已于2010年8月并网发电,2011年1月全部建成。2011年5月初,太平江一级电站所在地发生克钦邦独立军与缅甸政府军的武装冲突,在此次冲 突以前,政府军与克钦独立军(KIA)之间“低级别”的战斗已经断断续续持续了一年。据报道,中国公司已撤离相关人员100余人。
由中国电力投资公司在克钦地区建设的密松水电站遭到了较强烈的反对。 据了解,密松水电站所处的伊洛瓦底江上游(缅甸北部地区)对克钦人来说是神圣不可侵 犯的。一方面,密松坝址将淹没克钦人重要的历史文化遗产地;另一方面,电站的建设将对生活在该流域的克钦族人民造成不可逆转的生态改变。克钦邦首府就位于 大坝下方几十公里处,大坝成为当地居民的安全隐患,而下游广大平原和三角洲地区是缅族人的聚居地,一连串的大坝将会控制缅甸最重要河流的水文情况,改变已 存在了数个世纪的农业、运输、捕鱼和养殖模式。因而,一段时期以来,大坝建设遭到了克钦组织、环境保护专家、社会活动家以及流域内民众的普遍反对和强烈指 责。
(1)是否重视环境和社会影响评价 我们所接触的群体都提到有关投资的环境问题。虽然缅甸尚未形成成熟的环境评估理念和相关法律约束机制,但并不是人民心中没有环境标准,中国公司不应无视这样的标准,而应当至少以国际上的最佳范例和原则为标准来约束自己的投资行为。据了解,中方曾做过关于密松水坝项目的环 境评估,初步结论是该项目给环境造成了巨大的威胁,该环境评估报告虽然没有正式公布,但已经在社会群体和NGO广为流传。但中国公司并没有按照环境评估的 建议中止项目,而是冒险推进,这样的做法即使是在中国国内也是违反相关规定的,因而缅甸国内对于中国公司这种不顾环境评估的做法反应强烈。
(2)是否进行冲突风险评估。这是在缅甸少数民族控制地区进行投资首先应该考虑的问题。在缅甸少数民族矛盾激化、民族关系敏感的地区投资,很可能由于政治 局面的不稳定造成投资回报的不稳定,中国在利比亚的投资风险已经是前车之鉴。在缅甸的投资运作不当,容易激化各方冲突。在国际社会已经建立的有关原则中, 有很多关于尽量避免在冲突地区投资的内容,世界银行和世界水坝委员会也建议和提醒投资者尽早撤出风险地区,避免冲突升级带来的风险。在缅甸,民族控制地区 政府与中国保持密切关系,但央企又与缅甸政府保持商贸和政治上的良好关系,并在冲突地区投资,这容易给缅甸各方造成误解:缅甸政府和克钦独立组织对于中国 企业和中国政府的立场都存在不信任和猜忌。在这样的情况下,中国在缅甸的投资更应当将冲突风险评估放在重要的战略地位来考虑。
(3)是否关注缅甸人民的核心利益。在我们的访问过程中,缅甸各界人士都提及,伊诺瓦底江是他们的母亲河和核心利益,正如长江被视为中国的母亲河和中国人 民的核心利益一样。我们得到的信息是,几乎所有的人都反对密松水坝建设,这项工程没有得到缅甸大多数人民的理解、接受和赞同。如何让缅甸人民充分享有密松 水坝项目的知情权并参与讨论,如何避免缅甸政府独断专行违背人民利益决定伊诺瓦底江和缅甸人民的未来和命运,这很重要。
(4)是否恰当处理与缅甸政府和缅甸人民的关系。中国公司在缅甸的投资面临的挑战可想而知,一方面是缅甸政府的腐败,另一方面,缅甸的丰富资源又具有极大 的诱惑性,而当地老百姓对知情权的需求和维权意识在不断提升。中国公司与缅甸腐败官员在公众不知情的情况下做出了一些开发决策,使公众对中国公司的不满情 绪日益增长。在部分地区,即使中国公司进行了援助性的工程或捐赠活动,但由于这些活动都通过不得人心的政府来进行,公众毫不知情或者获得的信息并不完全正 确,并未真正惠及普通民众。访谈中,我们了解到韩国公司和印度政府在缅甸与民众广泛接触,获得了民众的理解和好感,而中国公司和中国政府在民众心中的形象正好相反。中国公司(尤其是作为对社区和环境有广泛影响的项目的投资者和实际开发者的那些中国公司)未能与当地民众建立良性的相互理解的关系。
应当说,缅甸的真实情况可以通过中国NGO向中国官方或民间传递,通过对真相的披露来推动中国方面改善海外投资行为。但实际上,两国NGO之间的交流并不 多,尤其是相对于官方的交流而言。在访谈中,我们感觉到当地NGO与中国同行进行交流的愿望非常强烈。其实,这样的交流对于两国NGO都是有益的:一方面,缅甸NGO需要了解世界(尤其是同样不发达的第三世界)的实际问题,对外交流是一个很好的渠道,而中国NGO的经验可以为缅甸同行所用。今天的缅甸在 很多方面与改革开放之前的中国类似,中国NGO对于那个时代的中国的认识,以及在过去的工作中积累的经验和教训,可以为缅甸NGO在目前的局势下更好地发 挥作用提供借鉴。另一方面,由于资讯的发达,缅甸的部分NGO已经接触并且接受了国际NGO活动的最新理念,并将其运用到当地实践中,他们在倡导上的成功 经验也是中国NGO不可多得的资源。因而,双方的交流完全可以是互惠互助的。我们真诚地希望这样的交流能够进一步扩大,而这需要中缅两国NGO的共同努力来推进。

Yu Xiaogong is Director and founder of the Yunnan-based environmental NGO, Green Watershed (云南大众流域). Chen Yu is Project officer at Green Watershed. Yang Yong is Director of the Panzhihua Hengduanshan Research Association in Sichuan.

Translated by Josh Friedman

Reviewed by Han Chen

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