Tag Archives: Myanmar

Bay of Bengal: ports against fishing

Strait_of_Malacca. Image from wikipedia

Bangladesh’s Chittagong, has… become a bottleneck. The Bangladeshis are modernising it… China is putting $200m towards upgrading the airport at Cox’s Bazar, the country’s southernmost tip, to attract investment and tourists.

Myanmar’s …new government, keen for foreign inflows to help rebuild the economy, has been approving projects that sat idle for years. Sittwe is one, but it looks small compared with the Dawei project on Myanmar’s Tenasserim coast… a deepwater port, industrial zone and highways to connect it with distant Bangkok, estimated to cost $8.5 billion.Thailand’s rulers dabbled for centuries with the idea of building a canal across the Kra isthmus, which would link their own gulf directly to the Andaman Sea and save days of costly shipping through the Strait of Malacca. Dawei should do the trick…. The Japanese are taking advantage of Myanmar’s opening to build a riverine port called Thilawa, south of Yangon.

The Chinese are exploring ways round their own Malacca-strait dilemma. They have been building new oil and gas pipelines across the whole of Myanmar starting from a new port-terminal at Kyaukphyu, near Sittwe….China’s activity in the Bay of Bengal is purely “defensive” [some say] but Indians versed in the “string of pearls” theory, which sees Chinese-built ports encircling India, will not be much comforted.

Amid the sometimes airy speculation, it is relatively easy to predict the effects on the repurposed waters of the bay. Yugraj Yadava, the director of an environmental watchdog in Chennai, says increased shipping is already eroding traditional livelihoods and polluting the sea. About 31% of the world’s coastal fishermen live and work on the Bay of Bengal, and they stand to lose huge tracts to the port-builders (and to rising sea levels, too). Mr Yadava says the bay still has some of the world’s healthiest natural fisheries, but they are under threat, not least from non-native species that stow away in long-haulers’ ballast.

Collisions between fishing vessels and commercial ships are becoming more frequent, as are snagged nets. All this will probably accelerate in the next few years. Before the Bay of Bengal falls victim to its new-found popularity, it might be good if some of its beneficiaries were to build a transnational maritime authority, to limit the damage.

Excerpts, The Bay of Bengal: New bay dawning, Economist,Apr. 27, 2013, at 40

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Nuclear Pro-proliferation Friends? Myanmar

A Republican senator is asking Myanmar’s president for answers over the reported seizure of a ship’s cargo bound for Myanmar with potential nuclear uses.   Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported North Korea tried to ship materials suitable for uranium enrichment or missile development to Myanmar via China. It said Japanese authorities seized metal pipes and high-specification aluminum alloy at U.S. request when the ship docked in Tokyo in August.

Sen. Richard Lugar, a leading voice in Congress on nonproliferation, wrote Tuesday to Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, urging him to disclose the intended recipient of the materials and their planned use. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter Thursday.  The reported seizure heightens concern over whether Myanmar is making good on promises to sever military ties with North Korea, believed to have assisted Myanmar in ballistic missile technology. Myanmar denies having sought nuclear assistance.

Lugar commended reformist leader Thein Sein for recently agreeing to sign up an international agreement that would allow greater U.N. scrutiny of any nuclear activities.  He said the reported Japanese seizure also provided an opportunity for the Myanmar government to demonstrate transparency.  “Peace and stability within ASEAN are potentially impacted by the intended purpose of the ship’s cargo,” Lugar wrote. ASEAN is Southeast Asia’s regional bloc and Myanmar is a member.  Thein Sein has ushered in democratic reforms after decades of direct military rule, helping end the nation’s international isolation. Earlier this month, Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the country, also known as Burma.

US senator writes Myanmar leader over reported seizure of suspect North Korean cargo, Associated Press, Nov. 30, 2012

Disaster Dams, China and Myanmar

Opponents of the colossal edifice [of  the Three Gorges dam in China] have been emboldened by rare government admissions of environmental and other “urgent” problems caused by the dam.  In private, officials have worried about the project for some time and occasionally their doubts have surfaced in the official media. But the government itself has refused to acknowledge them. When the project was approved by the rubber-stamp parliament in 1992, debate was stifled by the oppressive political atmosphere of the time, following the Tiananmen Square massacre three years earlier. Last July, with the dam facing its biggest flood crest since completion in 2006, officials hinted that they might have overstated its ability to control flooding. On May 18th, with the dam again in the spotlight because of the drought, a cabinet meeting chaired by the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, went further in acknowledging drawbacks.

Having called the dam “hugely beneficial overall”, the cabinet’s statement said there were problems relating to the resettlement of 1.4m people, to the environment and to the “prevention of geological disasters” that urgently needed addressing. The dam, it said, had had “a certain impact” on navigation, irrigation and water-supply downstream. Some of these problems had been forecast at the design stage or spotted during construction. But they had been “difficult to resolve effectively because of limitations imposed by conditions at the time.” It did not elaborate.

The confession has triggered a flurry of articles in official newspapers about the dam’s deficiencies. Some recalled a warning given by one of China’s most famous critics, Huang Wanli, before his death ten years ago that the dam would silt up the reservoir basin and sooner or later have to be blown up. The Oriental Morning Post even filled its front page with a picture of Mr Huang, who was persecuted by Mao Zedong for his criticism of the Sanmenxia dam on the Yellow River. Sanmenxia was the nation’s pride until its reservoir silted up. On June 7th Shanghai Daily, an English-language paper, called the Three Gorges “that monstrous damming project”.

Its effect on the drought is difficult to prove. Officials deny assertions that the dam and its more than 600-km (370-mile) reservoir might have affected the regional climate. But one official, Wang Jingquan of the Yangzi’s Water Resources Committee, conceded that the dam had lowered water levels in two of the country’s biggest freshwater lakes, making the impact worse. The rapid lowering of the reservoir’s level has also raised fears of landslides and earthquakes. Probe International, a Canadian NGO, published a report on June 1st by Chinese government experts saying the dam had caused “significantly increased” seismic activity.

Excerpt, China and opposition to dams: Choking on the Three Gorges, Economist, June 11, 2011, at 43

The Myitsone hydropower project,-

Myanmar and North Korea = Nuclear Weapons?

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has asked Myanmar’s reclusive military junta to allow the agency’s inspectors to visit amid growing concern that the Southeast Asian nation’s rulers may be trying to build a nuclear weapon.  The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Department of Safeguards made the request, according to diplomatic sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter.

A signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Myanmar has concluded a safeguards agreement with the IAEA with a Small Quantities Protocol (SQP). The SQP is designed for states that have little or no nuclear material and no nuclear material in facilities.  “Based on this agreement, Myanmar would be expected to inform the IAEA no later than six months prior to operating a nuclear facility,” said Giovanni Verlini, an IAEA spokesman based in Vienna, Austria. “If Myanmar were to operate such a facility, it would be subject to IAEA safeguards inspections, like similar facilities in other states.”  Mr. Verlini declined to confirm the agency’s request to the regime.

Myanmar’s nuclear program reportedly is managed by the Directorate of Defense Services Science and Technology Research Center (DDSSTRC), which is located in May Myo at the Defense Services Technological Academy.  The junta denies that it is trying to build a nuclear weapon.

Robert Kelley, a former director of the IAEA, expressed skepticism and said inspectors must visit Myanmar. “The legal question is ‘Where do they go and on what basis?’ If Burma says ‘no,’ there is no legal basis to force them right now,” he said in a phone interview. Myanmar also is known as Burma.

In its efforts to promote wider adherence to its safeguards system, the IAEA has invited Myanmar to conclude an Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement and amend its SQP in line with the revised text approved by the IAEA Board of Governors in September 2005.  The Additional Protocol would grant the IAEA expanded rights of access to information and sites, Mr. Verlini said.

On an earlier visit to Myanmar, IAEA inspectors had asked to see the factories where equipment for suspected facilities is manufactured, but ended up seeing only a university physics laboratoryAccording to a 2004 U.S. Embassy cable, leaked by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, a businessman said he had heard rumors that a nuclear reactor was being built near Minbu, in central Magway Division on the Irawaddy River in Myanmar.  Last summer, Maj. Sai Thein Win, who defected from Myanmar, told a dissident group that the junta was trying to build a nuclear weapon. Maj. Win had worked in factories that manufactured prototype components for missile and nuclear programs.

A report, commissioned by the Democratic Voice of Burma, said that while the military may not be successful in its efforts, “the intent is clear.” It said its analysis led to “only one conclusion: this technology is only for nuclear weapons and not civilian use or nuclear power.”  Mr. Kelley reviewed the data.   “We have satellite imagery of a mining-related facility in roughly the place identified by the source. I think it is likely a uranium mill, but to stake IAEA reputation on this is a bit shaky,” Mr. Kelley said.  “I know a number of other sites I suspect and would recommend one if asked, but I have not been asked,” he said. “I would expect the team will probably find nothing if they go, especially if they only visit the headquarters, a university or the factory.”  Western officials suspect North Korea is assisting Myanmar’s nuclear program.

The 2004 cable noted that there was no direct evidence of this alleged cooperation, however, “rumors of ongoing construction of a nuclear reactor are surprisingly consistent and observations of activity … appear to be increasing, as are alleged sightings of North Korean ‘technicians’ inside Burma.”  Another leaked cable, written in November 2009 by the top U.S. official in Yangon, described Myanmar-North Korea cooperation as “opaque.”  “Something is certainly happening; whether that something includes ‘nukes’ is a very open question which remains a very high priority for Embassy reporting,” the cable said

Ashish Kumar Sen, IAEA seeks permission from Myanmar for nuke inspectors to visit, Washington Times, January 13, 2011