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Suu Kyi party mulling Myanmar China dam rethink

Wednesday, Mar 9, 2016,16:43 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Yangon | Aung San Suu Kyi’s incoming government is considering a rethink of a controversial Chinese-backed dam in Myanmar and looking for ways to end a military conglomerate’s privileges, according to her party’s economic advisor.

Her new government, which is expected to take office in early April, faces a raft of economic challenges, not least the continued financial clout of Myanmar’s military, while needing to manage delicate relations with China, its biggest trading partner. Critics of the former junta long argued that Myanmar’s military elite grew wealthy off a cosy relationship with Beijing that granted the giant northern neighbour lucrative concessions with little trickle down benefit.

Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) have offered few policy details, beyond a broad manifesto, in the lengthy transition period since winning last November’s elections with a thumping mandate. But Hantha Myint, the head of the NLD’s economics committee, said voters were expecting tangible change. The people have very, very high hopes and then if we misbehave in some way the people’s expectations will be crushed, he told during an interview at the party’s headquarters in Yangon.

While underlining that Suu Kyi would make the ultimate decision on policy he said a potential redesign of the multi-billion dollar Myitsone hydropower project in northern Kachin State was on the cards comments likely to reverberate in Beijing. The trained engineer raised fears over its proximity to an active earthquake fault line, but said a compromise could be made to reduce risk.If we refuse to build a dam at Myitsone we can build other dams upstream, he added. Hantha Myint also said it was time for Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) a military conglomerate that runs business interests as diverse as construction, transport and brewing to compete at a level playing field.

The privileges given to MEHL by the previous government, we will not be able to give them those privileges, he said, adding however that other military financial ventures would remain outside of civilian control. Suu Kyi has shown a pragmatic streak in dealing with both Myanmar’s powerful military and controversial Chinese-backed projects. She led an inquiry into the Letpadaung copper mine in central Monywa, a joint venture between MEHL and China’s Wanbao following a violent police crackdown on protesters including monks in 2012.