Opposing China’s Shwe project in Burma
Eastern Panorama. March 9, 2010.
by Nava Thakuria Voices
against the foreign intrusion in Burmese economy are increasing. The
pro-democracy Burmese activists and their supporters have come out with
various programmes opposing a China sponsored multibillion dollar oil
and gas pipeline project inside Burma (Myanmar). The dual pipelines are
designed to transfer oil and gas from a Burmese state to a Southwestern
The initial point of the proposed oil
and natural gas pipeline project will be the offshore Shwe gas fields
of Arakan (or Rakhine) state. The 980 km dual oil and gas pipelines
would then cross the span of Myanmar touching over 20 townships.
The project will be used to pump the oil, taken by waterways from the
Middle East and African countries and also natural gas from the Shwe
gas fields of Myanmar to the Yunnan province of China.
The government media of China
disclosed that the construction work of the pipeline project was
started at Burma’s Maday Island in the Indian Ocean during November
2009. The Chinese officials, who were quoted in the news item, however
did not make any comment on the completion period of the project. An
unconfirmed source reveals that the oil pipeline will be ready for use
within the next two years.
The most populous Communist country of
the globe preferred to ignore the concerns expressed by various human
rights and Burma solidarity groups. It is worth mentioning that,
Beijing is heavily dependent on imported oil (almost 85%) from the
Middle East and African nations to meet its huge energy needs. The
country has increased its trade ties with Burma and has lately signed
an agreement to become the sole buying authority of the Shwe gas
reserve of Burma. Under this agreement, Beijing took the responsibility
to construct a trans-Myanmar (oil and gas) corridor to feed its robust
The State-owned China National
Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) holds a 50.9 per cent stake in partnership
with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) in the construction of
the dual oil and gas pipelines. The project is understood to have the
capacity to pump nearly 12 million tonnes of oil and 12 billion cubic
metres of gas per year.
The estimated project cost is expected
to be around US$2.5 billion. On the other hand, the Myanmarese
government would receive $29 billion over 30 years from the deal.
“The military rulers of Myanmar, which
is otherwise facing heavy economic sanctions by the United States and
many European countries, keep themselves alive with the royalty earned
from selling the natural resources to other countries. But all this
money is hardly used for any public welfare activities,” said M. Kim,
an exiled Burmese living in India.
Speaking to this writer from New Delhi,
Kim (who is associated with Myanmar Centre, Delhi) also pointed out
that the present group of Generals (collectively called the State Peace
and Development Council) have learnt the art of ignoring the concerns
of international communities about the worst human rights record and
also luring the neighboring countries (China, India and Thailand) into
forging trade ties with them.
Once the rice bowl of Asia, Myanmar is
today one of the poorest countries on the globe, but the military junta
of Nay Pie Taw (new capital of Myanmar) spends over 40 per cent of its
national budget on the defense sector. Shockingly, the dictators spend
only 2 per cent of the budget on health and education (of 50 million
The Southeast Asian country has been
ruled by the military generals since the early sixties. The present
regime is headed by Senior General Than Shwe, who has developed a kind
of enmity towards the pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. The leader
of the main opposition party (National League for Democracy), Suu Kyi
has been under house arrest for more than a decade now. Under pressure
from international communities, the Myanmarese government had recently
declared a roadmap for democracy and an election is scheduled this
year. But the Than Shwe government is yet to be committed to the
release of thousands of political prisoners including the Nobel
laureate Suu Kyi before the polls.
The exiled Myanmarese and many other sympathetic groups had recently raised their voices against the
pipeline project inside Myanmar. Over 120 organizations based in 20
countries came out with the demand that Beijing should halt the
construction of the proposed oil and gas pipeline project. Led by the
Shwe Gas Movement, a Thailand based oil-gas watchdog and rights group;
the movement submitted a memorandum to the Chinese government on the
Global Day of Action (on October 28).
In the letter which was addressed to
the President of the People’s Republic of China and which was sent
through the Chinese Embassies in various countries like India,
Malaysia, Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Sweden, Norway,
Netherlands, UK etc., the campaign group not only expressed serious
concern at the probable threats to the environment and common
Myanmarese but also asked President Hu Jintao to stop its construction
“We are gravely concerned about the
thousands of communities living along the planned 980 km pipeline
corridor. Based on experiences in Myanmar, partnerships with the MOGE
on infrastructure development projects invariably leads to forced
displacement, forced labour and loss of livelihoods. The escalation of
abuses around a project when Myanmar army soldiers provide security is
well documented by UN agencies and NGOs,” stated in the letter.
The initiative was supported by a
number of organizations like, All Arakan Students’ and Youths’Congress,
Arakan Oil Watch, and Shwe Gas Movement (India). “What is more awful is
that the local communities, who will be affected by the project, are
still unaware of it and they are not being consulted. At the same time,
neither the military authority nor the CNPC had initiated any
environmental and social impact assessments before launching the
pipeline project,” said Wong Aung, the coordinator of Shwe Gas Movement.
Speaking to this writer from Chiang Mai
(Thailand), the young activist also revealed that over 10, 000
Myanmarese soldiers had already been deployed along the pipeline route.
He apprehended that the number (of soldiers) would be increased in the
days to come and it would simply add to the number of incidents of
human rights abuses along the route of the pipelines.
“Past experiences have shown that the
pipeline construction and maintenance in the country always involves
forced labour, forced relocation, land confiscation, and other kinds
of abuses by the soldiers engaged in the project area,” added Wong
Aung. In a book titled ‘Corridor of Power: China’s Trans-Myanmar Oil
and Gas Pipelines’, the Shwe Gas Movement came out with strong voices
that the extraction of the Shwe natural gas deposit must be postponed
until the local people in western Myanmar could participate in the
decision making process about the use of the resources.
It also added that the concerned
neighboring countries and also the oil companies must stop all kinds of
trades with the military junta and refrain from further investment
until there is a democratically elected government in the country.
It may be mentioned that a number of
international corporations are engaged in the petroleum production
activities in Myanmar including Daewoo International (South Korea, 51
per cent of shares in Shwe Gas Consortium), Oil and Natural Gas
Corporation (ONGC Videsh, India, 17 per cent of shares in Shwe Gas
Consortium), Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL India, 8.5 per cent
of shares in Shwe Gas Consortium), The China National Petroleum
Corporation (purchaser of the gas and builder of the pipelines),
PetroChina Company Ltd etc. In fact, Myanmar’s western coast, which is
rich in oil and gas reserves, has become the battle ground for Beijing
and New Delhi in recent years.
western companies showed reluctance in investing in Myanmar, but both
China and India continued their mission and battle over the Myanmarese
oil and gas,” said an editorial of the Shwe Gas bulletin. It also added
that at the time when China and India were exploiting the resources of
Arakan to enhance their energy and economic security, over four million
people living in the state were facing human rights abuses and economic
hardship. Debbie Stothard, coordinator to Alternative ASEAN Network on
Myanmar, argues that a number of projects in Burma had resulted in the
displacement of thousands of poor Burmese from their own localities and
they were exposed to various forms of abuse by the military.
Speaking to this writer from Bangkok,
Debbie added that the Shwe pipeline project would have a heavy impact
on the people living along the route and it would end up adversely
affecting the entire region.
However, none of this appears to matter
to the Chinese, the governments surrounding Myanmar, or any of the
countries wishing to buy Myanmar’s rich natural resources.
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