Yunnan proposes cross-border special zone with Laos

July 21, 2012

According to Yunnan Ribao 云南日报, Yunnan Province has proposed to Laos’ Luang Namtha Province to set up a Mohan-Boten cross-border special economic zone (SEZ) based on the “two countries, one zone; separate administrations, joint planning” 两国一区、分别管理、统筹协调 model. According to the proposal, this would require an agreement between the two national governments.

Earlier this year, the prefect of Sipsongpanna, Dao Linyin 刀林荫, announced that a Chinese-Lao cross-border nature reserve established in 2009 would be expanded to 1.5 million mu (100 thousand ha), in part to promote tourism. A previous report by Xinhua claimed that the initiative encompassed 550 thousand ha in Sipsongpanna Prefecture and Laos’ Phongsaly Province, and that talks were underway with Burma’s Shan State Special Region 4 to create a similar zone.

Currently, the Golden Boten City Special Economic Zone in Laos is the private concession of a Chinese company, which recently acquired it from its earlier, Hong Kong-registered concessonaire. While the latter had sometimes conflicted relations with the Yunnan officialdom — and was eventually forced by the Chinese government to roll up its gambling business — the new owner is said to be a high official from Sipsongpanna Prefecture in Yunnan, and may be better positioned to broker between the two governments. Although Golden Boten City has often been described by Western observers as essentially an extension of China, I argue in a recent article that its private investors used the paraphernalia of the Chinese state to enhance their own developmental clout. But if the new plan is implemented, the special zone will become more closely intertwined with Chinese bureaucracy, and questions about sovereignty may have to be asked anew.

Chinese hydropower company donates funds to Kachin refugees

July 20, 2012

Xinhua reports that Upper Irrawaddy Power, a Sino-Burmese joint venture that is building several dams in the Kachin State of Burma, has donated the equivalent of $24,000 via Christian organisations to Kachin refugees displaced by the fighting between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army.

Earlier, a different Chinese hydropower company involved in the suspended Myitsone dam construction has built a Baptist church for local villagers at the dam site.

The efforts are indicative of steps taken by Chinese hydropower companies to improve relations with locals, especially as they are afraid that more projects may be stopped. These are buoyed by government instructions and public suggestions in China that state enterprises investing abroad should handle political risks more prudently and that they should not only deal with governments but also other actors.

This particular news is interesting not only because the beneficiaries are Christian churches — which tend to have close ties with U.S. organisations — but also because the Chinese government does not to recognise refugees in general and has leaned toward the Burmese government in the recent conflict.

Protecting the rights of cross-border migrant workers

February 16, 2012

Legal Daily (法制日报)published an intriguing news item. Relatives of two Sichuanese workers who worked at a Yunnanese-owned mine in Burma and disappeared after a traffic accident turned to a migrant-worker rights-protection agency in Yunnan, 云南省农民工法律援助维权中心. The agency contacted “relevant government organs” and got the employer to pay compensation of 540 thousand yuan.

What is interesting is that migrant workers who worked abroad were included in the category of nongmingong, “peasant workers,” and in the institutions of “rights defense” 维权 , which often carries an overtone of dissidence against state power in labour rights cases.

Chinese hydropower company inaugurates Baptist church at Myitsone dam site

January 30, 2012

Yunnan International Power Investment Co., a daughter of China State Grid, inaugurated a Baptist church at the resettlement village built for villagers resettled from the site of the now-suspended Myitsone Dam. The ceremony, according to the report in Chinese media, was attended by some 500 people, including the “chairman of the Myitkyina Baptist Association” and, surprisingly, nuns. 2,146 people have already been resettled. A clinic, a school, a police station, a post office, an electricity and water grid have also been constructed.

The article makes no mention of the fact that the dam construction has been stopped. What will happen with the resettled people?

In related news, Sinopec signed a new agreement with the Burmese government on increasing assistance to the areas affected by the construction of its oil pipeline from the port of Kyaukpyu to China. So far, Sinopec has offered $6 million for health and education purposes, including the construction of 8 schools. The new agreement is to build 18 village clinics and one hospital. Sinopec has also pledged to donate $1 million annually to the areas affected. So perhaps these are all efforts to improve the image of Chinese companies in Burma and hedge against political risks, as demanded by the Chinese government.

Foreign Policy lists two “China-in-X” books among 25 notable books of 2011

January 4, 2012

Thant Myint-U’s Where China meets India: Burma and the new crossroads of Asia and La silenciosa conquista china, by Juan Pablo Cardenal y Heriberto Araújo, have been named by Foreign Policy‘s list of 25 notable books in 2011.

China takes measures to improve image in Burma

November 20, 2011

According to an article in 东方早报, China is engaging in “public diplomacy” toi improve its image in Burma. This is because negative reporting about the Myitsone Dam project in the newly semi-freed media is said to have contributed to the president’s decision to suspend it, and in the Chinese government’s view such reporting was based on Western media reports rather than independent assessments of what was happening.

So now, the government is inviting members of the “popular” (non-state) media to study tours of China, as it has done in African countries. It also has set up satellite broadcasts of China Central Television to Burma, which were — like any other satellite channels — previously banned by the Burmese junta. So the government seems to be banking on the chance that more openness may bring more, not less, attraction to China.

Failed Chinese rubber planters’ experiences in Burma

November 19, 2011

The recent killing of 13 Chinese sailors on the Golden Triangle section of the Upper Mekong led to China’s suspension of shipping there and recriminations against Thailand on the Chinese Internet. In an article published on QQ’s finance page, Chinese rubber planters on the Burmese side of the region — Special Region No. 2, controlled by the United Wa State Army — reported on previous encounters with violence.

One of them planted 5,000 mu in 2002 but, in 2006, UWSA commanders forced him at gunpoint to sign what he describes an extortionate lease contract. He fled to China and was later persuaded to sign the land over to Wa. Another planter, who first invested in Burma in 1998, had two plantations taken over in similar ways by Wa soldiers.

Meanwhile, as part of the media coverage that has followed Burma’s suspension of the Myitsone Dam project, a power industry website published an article about how electricity companies in Dehong Prefecture have been providing power across the border, starting as early as 1985 — that is, when the Burmese Communist Party still controlled the region. An employee would go across the border once a month to take electricity readings. He got himself into dangerous situations but assured the reporter that the company provided the same service to cross-border customers as to domestic ones.

This is a reminder of the complicated power relations in the region. The local ceasefire armies, particularly UWSA, are not simple victims or co-perpetrators of Chinese exploitation: they can also be adversaries. Chinese investors, for their part, can be victims or service providers trying to “act normal”.