RANGOON—President’s Office Minister Aung Min admitted that “we are afraid of China” during a public meeting in Monywa, Saigaing Division, where he and other senior government officials met local people protesting a controversial Chinese-backed copper mining project.
Footage shot by the Democratic Voice of Burma showed the minister and his team meeting representatives from 26 villages to learn about their complaints. He said that he would report his findings to reformist President Thein Sein.
During discussions with Thwe Thwe Win, a protester who has demanded the complete shutdown of the project, Aung Min said the deal was signed between the former military government and a Chinese company and so ceasing operations would entail a fortune in compensation.
“If China asks for compensation, even the Myitsone Dam shutdown would cost US $3 billion,” he said. “But China still hasn’t said a word about it. We are afraid of China.”
Aung Min added that Burma should be grateful to China for its aid in 1988 when the Southeast Asian nation faced a food crisis due to nationwide unrest. He added that in the 1980s the former Chinese President Deng Xiaoping cut off support to the Communist Party of Burma that weakened the Marxist insurgency against the central government.
“So we don’t dare to have a row with China!” said Aung Min. “If they feel annoyed with the shutdown of their projects and resume their support to the communists, the economy in border areas would backslide. So you’d better think seriously.”
“As a minister, he shouldn’t say so,” said Chan Tun, a former Burmese ambassador to China. “It’s true that China is a powerful country but if we are afraid of anyone powerful, we have nowhere to stay. What we have to do is to build friendship, and make the most of it,” said the 91-year-old veteran diplomat.
At a press conference in Rangoon on Monday, Tun Myint Aung, the rural affairs representative of the 88 Generation Students group, pointed out that the crisis facing the Letpadaung mountain range is greater than anybody thought regarding both the environmental and social impact on local residents. He also urged the government to listen to the voices of the people.
“The government has to focus more on its people’s interests, rather than being afraid of losing face with a foreign company,” he said. “If they neglect the people’s will, it could be an obstacle to the reform process.”
Meanwhile, scores of people demanding a halt to the copper mine staged a protest near Sule Pagoda in downtown Rangoon at around 3:30 pm on Monday. Demonstrators held placards asking for a complete shutdown of the project both in Burmese and Chinese, and circled the park where the Burmese Independence Monument is found. Apart from warning those present that their gathering was illegal, witnesses said the police did not use force and the demonstration dispersed peacefully at around 5 pm.