China and Burma Leaders Meet, Oil and Gas Projects Move Forward

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On September 10th, Burmese leader Senior General Than Shwe met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing.  During the high profile meetings, leaders from both countries affirmed the strength of the brotherly paukphaw relations China and Burma share and discussed the importance of maintaining peace along their borders, as well as ways to increase economic and trade exchanges, especially in the development of energy projects.

The following day, state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) held an opening ceremony to begin construction on the Chinese portion of two controversial crude oil and natural gas pipelines linking Burma’s Arakan coast with China’s southwestern city of Kunming.  These pipelines will transport natural gas from Burma’s lucrative offshore Shwe project to refineries in China, as well as China’s imports of crude oil from the Middle East, Africa and South America, thereby facilitating China’s access to overseas energy resources and promoting western China’s economic and industrial development.    

The announcement that CNPC was beginning construction on the Chinese portion of these pipelines comes less than three months after construction started on the Burmese portion of the pipelines.  That last announcement in June also coincided with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s official visit to Burma to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Sino-Burmese relations. 

Once completed, these pipelines will stretch from the coastal town of Kyaukpyu in Arakan State to the town of Shweli on the China border in Shan State before continuing on to other Chinese cities for processing.  And, while these oil and gas pipelines are a huge endeavor, they are also part of a larger project to establish a trade and transportation corridor linking China with the Indian Ocean.  New roads are being built and railroad tracks being laid to improve transportation between Kyaukpyu and the China border to provide China with secure access to the Indian Ocean.    

Approximate route of the pipeline

Burma’s New Light of Myanmar reported last week that during their meetings, Than Shwe and Hu Jintao discussed details about the construction of the Kyaukpyu-Shweli road and railway, as well as progress at the construction of a deep-sea port at Kyaukpyu which will include a crude oil storage facility for the oil pipeline.

Even though construction of these pipeline, highway, railroad and port projects are only in the initial stages, EarthRights International fact-finders have already begun documenting new human rights violations being committed in the region, including land confiscation for the construction of the Kyaukpyu-Shweli railroad.   

If past experience in Burma is any guide, human rights violations will only increase as construction of these projects gains momentum, especially if investing companies refuse to impose strict social and environmental standards on their projects in Burma.  Unfortunately, the most recent reports from CNPC state that Burma’s military government will be responsible for providing security in the pipeline region.  Unless the investing companies take greater steps to ensure the protection of human rights at their project sites it’s more than likely that human suffering around the China-Burma oil and gas pipelines, roads, and railroads will increase as the projects move forward. 

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