Chinese Weapons Maker Signs Myanmar Deal

China North Industries Corp., a leading Chinese weapons manufacturer, signed a cooperation pact with the government of Myanmar to develop a copper mining project, the latest sign of growing commercial ties between the reclusive Southeast Asian nation and its giant neighbor.

The Monywa Copper Mine Project Cooperation Contract was signed during Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Myanmar in early June, China North Industries, or Norinco, said in a statement on its website. The statement was posted on the company’s website Wednesday, but dated June 10. It didn’t disclose financial terms.

The deal underlines how the isolated military rulers of Myanmar are increasingly turning to the country’s most important political and economic ally for support—and how China continues to seek natural resources from its southwestern neighbor to feed its industrialization.

The Norinco statement said Monywa is “abundant in copper mine resources with excellent mineral quality, which is of great significance to strengthening the strategic reserves of copper resources in our country, and to enhancing the influence of our country in Myanmar.”

China is Myanmar’s third-largest investor after Thailand and Singapore. The importance of Chinese companies has been growing as Western counterparts have walked away from Myanmar because of the ruling military government’s human-rights abuses. The junta has been widely condemned for crackdowns on political expression by Buddhist monks and its refusal to allow a popularly elected, pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to form a government.

Monywa was previously owned by Ivanhoe Mines Ltd., but a statement on Ivanhoe’s website said it completely divested itself of interests in the project on Mar. 30, 2007. Ivanhoe didn’t identify the new owners, but said in the Oct. 3, 2007, statement that it no longer has interests, activities or personnel in Myanmar.

“We share the revulsion of right-thinking people everywhere against unwarranted assaults on Buddhist monks and civilians,” Ivanhoe said in the statement. “We deplore the fact that so many years of discussions within Myanmar about constitutional change now appear to be jeopardized by the reactions of the state that threaten to set back, rather than advance, human rights and democratic ideals.”

The statement said the Monywa project produced 19,544 metric tons of refined copper in 2006 and 34,478 tons in 2005. It said the Canadian company had invested $100 million in the project, and didn’t make a profit.

Ivanhoe chairman Robert M. Friedland didn’t respond to a call for comment Wednesday.

Norinco sells small arms, anti-aircraft and antimissile systems, and amphibious assault weapons, according to the website. It also sells non-military goods and services such as engineering contracting.

The Norinco statement Wednesday said Zhang Guoqing, whom it identified as chairman of Norinco, signed the Monywa deal with Myanmar’s Maj. Gen. Win Than in the presence of the two countries’ premiers.

A person who answered the phone at Norinco said no one named Zhang Guoqing currently works at the company. She declined to provide the name of the company’s chairman, or to comment on the statement.

The statement said that Mr. Zhang and other Myanmar government officials also signed a framework package of cooperation arrangements for the chemical industry, production-chain improvements, as well as a port, a railroad and a hydroelectric power station.

—David Winning in Sydney contributed to this article.

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