On 6 March, Irrawaddy news reported that senior officials from China’s Yunnan province once again pressured Kachin religious leaders to support the controversial Myitsone dam project at a meeting held last week at the Chinese border town of Ruili. The meeting was joined by top Yunnan leaders and representatives of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), and the Chinese officials said Chinese President Xi Jinping was a strong supporter of the dam project. KBC president Rev. Hkalam Samson was quoted as saying, “They said it would be better if we accept the Myitsone project, as it would bring benefits to the local people.” He added, “They say that the BRI will help the development of Myanmar, and that we should not think the project will only benefit China.”
During the meeting, Chinese officials also stressed that the Kachin armed group needed to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) as soon as possible in order to facilitate development projects and the return of IDPs to Kachin State. “They think that if we sign the peace agreement, their investment will be secured in our state. But our aims [as an ethnic group] are focused on achieving self-determination and equal rights in our state. We want a federal [Union]. We have a big gap here,” Rev. Hkalam Samson said. “According to them, the development of the border area is crucial under President Xi’s policy. Their development plans have been stalled by the [civil] war. I think they will push harder to make it happen in the near future,” he continued.
The project, worth US$3.6 billion, is located at the confluence of the two rivers that form the country’s “lifeline” - the Irrawaddy River. It was suspended by then-president U Thein Sein in 2011 due to a widespread public outcry over the dam’s serious social and environmental impacts. However, it caught public’s attention again when Chinese Ambassador Hong Liang stated after his visit to Kachin State last December that the Kachin people did not oppose to the dam’s project continuation.