A recent article in People’s Daily‘s popular-nationalistic offshot, the Chinese-language Global Times, cites concerns by the Shan Women’s Movement and another Bangkok-based Shan exile organisation about the dams built by China on the Mekong. These dams have been the focus of sustained concern in the downstream Mekong countries in the past two years, and blamed for a bad drought. So far the Chinese government has rejected the blame, but as of this year it has begun providing more complete hydrological data to the Mekong River Commission. Prominent Chinese public intellectual Qin Hui, who considers the accusations in China’s address exaggerated, has repeatedly called on the government to give up ignoring the concerns and enter into a reasoned discussion.
Although this article goes on to say that “many” consider these Shan organisations a front for Western interests and to cite Chinese “experts” who reject their allegations, it is nonetheless remarkable that these exile groups are given voice in the mainstream Chinese press in the first place, and described as “Burmese NGOs”. This might signal a shift in China’s relations to the Burmese government; greater concern with the fallout from controversial megaprojects (as already manifested in the rhetoric used in Africa), or else a shift in the relationship between Peking and Yunnan Province in relation to the border areas. (Yunnan has been keen on pursuing economic interests while the central government has been more sensitive to the political consequences, although so far this has mainly meant that Peking refused to talk to border-area ethnic organisations that oppose the Burmese junta.