In Burma, workers are building one of the most lucrative foreign-funded development projects in the country’s history. Twin oil and gas pipelines will stretch from Burma’s west coast to its northeast border and into energy-hungry China. They are expected to earn Burma about $1 billion per year, but, not everyone is a supporter.
At Mandalay Hill’s Su Taung Pyai Pagoda a Chinese visitor makes a ritual cleansing prayer.
China is Burma’s biggest investor and here in the country’s second largest city residents say an influx of Chinese immigrants now dominate the busy downtown.
Former Mandalay Trader’s Association general secretary Sai Kyaw Zaw, says that Burmese businesses can no longer compete.
“Seventy-five percent of businesses here are invested by Chinese either legally and illegally. We can see it clearly after Mandalay was razed by heavy fire in 1985," Sai Kyaw Zaw explained. "Most Chinese could re-build their houses immediately with support from mainland China. After that, all of downtown Mandalay became China Town.”
Outside Mandalay, a Chinese company building pipelines is bringing controversy to the country
The network will carry domestic oil and gas and also offload tankers from the Middle East and Africa in the Bay of Bengal.
A group of foreign investors backed the project but most of the financing is from China. So are many of the workers, known by their red jump suits.
Skilled local hires can earn about $250 a month says bulldozer driver Ko Hla Maung. “I don’t know the details of this project. I just come and work here for daily wages,” he said.
While the project brings jobs, some landowners have objections. Monks at the Asia A Linn Yaung Monastery in Pyin Oo Lwin Township were initially offered nothing for part of their property - until the news media published their complaints.
Senior monk U Sein Di Tha says local farmers are too afraid to speak out.
"The government will take their land and continue pipeline construction whether they agree to it or not," he said. "That is why they try to be content with the compensation. Nobody wants to give up their land."
To win over local critics, China National Petroleum Corporation is donating several million dollars to build new health clinics, wells and schools.
In Hman Pin Village, a new school for 300 students was welcomed by Hla Myint, the village head.
“I am very happy to have a new school at my village because it is not possible to build it with our own funds. The old school lasted over 40 years but was in very poor condition.”
Engineers say the pipeline should be completed next year - another big Chinese development project bringing in jobs and also mixed feelings among the people of Burma.