By Antoaneta Bezlova
BEIJING, Sep 9 (IPS) – Despite fresh international criticism of Beijing’s backing for an unpopular regime as the Burmese junta, China sees its alliance with the country’s military as a matter of simple economic expediency and is determined to forge ahead with controversial joint dual oil and gas pipelines that will ensure greater energy security for its robust economy.
This month sees the first digs on the mammoth infrastructure project that will connect China’s southwestern province of Yunnan with Burma’s western coast.
The proposed gas pipeline will transfer gas from the offshore Shwe gas fields in Arakan state all the way to the capital Kunming of Yunnan province and possibly further inland in China. The twin oil pipeline will be used to transfer oil shipped from the Middle East and Africa bypassing the strategically vulnerable Malacca Strait shipping route.
After Burmese activists released a detailed report Monday on the project forecasting it will trigger social unrest and create a public relations fiasco for the Chinese company involved, a state-run newspaper in Beijing rejected the allegations, saying the project was unlikely to be stopped.
The Shwe Gas Movement, a group of Burmese exiles in Bangladesh, India and Thailand, also said the junta’s recent offensive against ethnic rebels near the pipeline route showed that the regime had no concerns about providing stability for investors, which could translate into great security risks for the project undertakers.
“China is not afraid of the threat and criticism,” the ‘Global Times’ – a paper published by the state news agency – quoted an anonymous Chinese official familiar with the issue. “When Myanmar (Burma’s official name) was constructing a pipeline to Thailand in the 1990s, Myanmar activists also criticised the government, but the voice is barely heard now.”
Outside observers though believe the new pipeline project carries greater potential risks than the pipeline conveying gas to Thailand, which they described as a “vehicle for a proliferation of human rights abuses” during its construction and after – such as the widespread use of forced labour and forced evictions.
“Such practices, in the likelihood they would re-occur with respect to this latest pipeline, could very well be the spark to set off a broader conflict,” said Sean Turnell, a Burma expert at Macquarie University in Australia. “Of course, exacerbating matters is the fact that Chinese energy firms have a less than stellar record themselves when it comes to the ruthlessness with which they pursue energy deals.” Continue reading “CHINA: Dual Pipelines in Burma to Push Ahead Amid Criticism”