October, 2007

His Excellency President Hu Jintao

Zhongnanhai, Xichengqu, Beijing

People's Republic of China

cc. Bo Xilai, Minister of Commerce of PRC

Dear President Hu,

We are writing to express grave concerns about the many large hydropower projects that have recently been approved involving Chinese corporations and Burma/Myanmars military regime. Most are in ethnic lands where the regime continues to wage brutal war, or where ceasefires are tenuous and resumption of conflict over inequities and abuses is very possible. In the spirit of the Chinese governments peaceful development policy, and in view of the present and potential consequences of these transnational development projects, we appeal to you to review the procedures and laws regulating such investments, release information regarding the dam plans to affected communities and take action to prevent what could become another social and ecological catastrophe.

In recent years the number of Chinese businesses involved in hydropower projects in Burma/Myanmar has increased dramatically, apparently moving abroad following tighter regulation in China and higher compensation costs to Chinese dam affected peoples.

At least ten Chinese corporations have been named in connection with these dams on the Irrawaddy, Salween (Nu), Shweli and Paunglaung rivers, including Sinohydro Corporation, Yunnan Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Co., and China Power Investment Corporation. The dams would represent over US$30 billion in investment. This would be by far the biggest inflow of money to a military regime that Transparency International rates as the worlds second most corrupt. Revenues would be used to pay for the regimes arms acquisitions and its military operations that oppress the people.

The juntas brutal handling of the recent protests against huge energy price rises, growing poverty and its corrupt and superstitious governance has brought it much disgrace and dishonor. Away from the eyes of the world however, the civil war that it continues to wage against the diverse peoples who live in the Salween River basin is so much worse. Burning and looting of villages, forced relocation, extortion at gunpoint, systematic rape of women, and torture and killing of civilians by the regimes troops are commonplace. Dam construction agendas in both ceasefire and non-ceasefire areas have already been adding to this violence and suffering. Efforts to secure the areas for the dams over the years have already resulted in displacement of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees. The dams will make even more refugees and deepen local poverty. This will likely worsen problems with narcotics, HIV / AIDS and other infectious disease problems that are already affecting China.

The entire decision-making process for the planning and implementation of the hydropower development projects in Burma / Myanmar has been conducted in secrecy, with the minimal information being revealed through often contradictory government sources. There has been a total absence of public participation among the dam-affected communities in Burma, and no acknowledgement of their concerns. If any assessment of social or environmental impact (SIA and EIA) has been done, all information has been kept secret, despite the finalizing of agreements and some construction beginning. The vast majority of the communities who will be displaced or bear the many other negative impacts of the dam construction will get no benefits or compensation.

As for environmental impacts, as your government has recently acknowledged in the case of the Three Gorges Dam, large dams can cause enormous impacts, some predictable and others hard to foresee. They will be suffered by communities all the way down to the delta and the sea. These mighty and majestic rivers will be obstructed, millions of hectares of forests logged and flooded, and the livelihoods of millions of people disrupted, if not devastated. There is high earthquake and landslide risk in these areas of intense seismicity and where slopes have been destabilized by heavy logging. Combined with low construction standards in Burma and a recent history of failed dams, people have reason to greatly fear and resent these projects.

There are many international standards applicable to the construction, operation and financing of hydroelectric projects. The guidelines of the World Commission on Dams are the most comprehensive, requiring EIAs, public participation and disclosure. Further, the need for EIAs and consideration of the rights of indigenous peoples are widely recognized in international law. In addition, the international community has increasingly recognized the need for corporate responsibility, as laid out in the draft UN Norms on the Responsibility of Transnational Corporations, the UN Global Compact, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

From its own wisdom China has included environmental assessment, public participation, environmental reporting, and resettlement benefits in its own laws and policies.

Since 2003, the Environmental Impact Assessment Law has required EIAs for all major development projects. The EIA process also requires public participation and disclosure of the EIA.

The State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) issued a Bulletin on Information Disclosure for Corporate Environmental Performance in 2003 which recognizes the need for corporations to report on the environmental impacts of their projects and release their findings to the public.

In 2006 the State Council implemented Order No. 471 Regulations on Land Requisition Compensation and Residents Resettlement in Construction of Large and Medium-sized Water Conservancy and Hydroelectric Projects.

While it is understood that these laws and regulations only govern Chinese businesses within China, they do present an opportunity for China to extend its same commendable domestic standards to its projects in other countries, in light of Chinas peaceful development policy. Regrettably, this official position is being undermined by the unregulated actions of Chinese corporations investing in countries such as Burma/Myanmar. By constructing, operating, and financing hydroelectric projects in volatile areas and without EIAs or SIAs, Chinese corporations involved in Burma/Myanmar are creating hostility, not contributing to development for peace. Given the political tensions and possibility of violence in areas surrounding the dam sites, we urge the Chinese government to consider the security of Chinese workers and companies in these areas.

Many of the proposals involving Chinese hydropower corporations in Burma/Myanmar are still in the initial stages, although a few are rapidly progressing. This presents an opportunity for the Chinese government to pursue its policy of peaceful development for transboundary development projects by incorporating relevant Chinese and international standards.

In this spirit, we respectfully request the Chinese government to closely oversee Chinese corporations planning, operating and financing hydropower development and other natural resource extraction projects in Burma/Myanmar. Compliance with Chinese and international standards ensuring informed participation making and accountability is essential. Specifically, this includes:

1. Providing timely, accurate information to affected communities about hydropower development projects, and including these communities in the decision process. This includes public disclosure of dam feasibility studies, investment and financial agreements, MOUs, MOAs, and clear information regarding responsible parties.

2. Comprehensive environmental and social impact assessments (EIAs and SIAs) with meaningful public participation is essential for projects abroad in order to adequately determine the feasibility of projects before concluding any agreements.

3. We ask that as a minimum requirement the Chinese government not permit its nationals to carry out large scale projects that involve risks to life and security that would not be acceptable in China itself.

We look forward to a positive response.


Burma Rivers Network is comprised of representatives of different ethnic organizations from potential dam affected communities in Burma. Our mission is to protect the health of river ecosystems and sustain biodiversity, rights and livelihoods of communities.

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