Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China and India are courting Myanmar’s energy supplies. While Beijing aims to transport Middle Eastern and African oil through the region, New Delhi is planning a gas pipeline from Myamnar to India through Bangladesh. But experts are concerned that the country’s natural wealth favours the military junta to the detriment of the population.
At the beginning of April, the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planning body, approved the oil pipeline linking Myanmar's deepwater port of Sittwe with Kunming, capital of south-western China's Yunnan province. China will invest 8 billion Yuan (1.04 billion dollars) to build a gas pipeline, which will stretch 2,380 kilometres, linking Myanmar with Kunming. This pipeline will transport 170 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Middle East to south-western China in the next 30 years. The long-awaited pipeline would provide an alternative route for China's Strait of Malacca crude-oil imports from the Middle East and Africa.
Meanwhile Beijing is exploiting the Burmese reserves. In January the China National Petroleum Corp. (Cnpc) signed a deal with the Burmese government to explore and extract oil and gas off the country’s west coast. The other Chinese energy giants (Sinopec and China National Offshore Oil Corp. Cnooc) have long been active in the area: in 2006 Fu Chengyu, Cnooc president, said that the company would concentrate the medium term investments in two countries: Myanmar and Nigeria.
Energy hungry India has been cooperating with its ancient rival Myanmar since the ’90’s. New Delhi has long been planning a gas pipeline of 950 kilometres through Bangladesh, but so far difficulties in relations with Dhaka have convinced Yangon to sell its gas to China. But May 1°, Bengalese Foreign Affairs Adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury on returning from Myanmar, re-launched the project stating that his country “agreed to negotiate for allowing the pipeline if Myanmar sells gas and India agrees to buy”. The pipeline would cost 1 billion dollars, and it’s estimated that India would pay Bangladesh 100-120 million dollars to allow rights of passage.
Myanmar is believed to have Southeast Asia’s largest natural gas reserves and as a result other States such as Japan and South Korea have long been active in the country. Thailand alone speeds an average 1.2 billion dollars per year for Burmese gas. Observers note that as a result the military junta which controls the country is courted by foreign governments to the detriment of human rights abuses that it carries out against ethnic minorities. Human Rights Watch has for some time denounced that the main gas deposits were found in western Myanmar where the ethnic minority of the Arakan live. Last week, inhabitants of Kyaukpyu town near Ye Nan Taung, attacked and stoned the Cnooc offices, accusing them of underpayment. Wong Aung, spokesman for the Shwe Gas movement which aims to protect the rights of the Arakan, has repeatedly reported that Cnooc takes possession of Arakan land and treats the inhabitants as if they were their employees, but adds that it is almost impossible to obtain justice for them in “a land without laws”. (PB)