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China to Push Myanmar's New Government on Stalled Dam

FILE - Riverside restaurants and boat tours at Myitsone where the Mali Hka and Mai Hka rivers form the Irawaddy River, March 31, 2012. (D. Schearf/VOA)

China signaled on Thursday that it will push Myanmar's new government to resume a controversial stalled dam project in the Southeast Asian country, saying the contract was still valid.

Outgoing Myanmar President Thein Sein angered Beijing in 2011 by suspending the $3.6 billion, Chinese-invested Myitsone dam project, some 90 percent of whose power would have gone to China.

Other Chinese projects in the former Burma have proved controversial too, including the Letpadaung copper mine, against which residents have repeatedly protested, and twin Chinese oil and gas pipelines across the country.

Speaking ahead of a summit next week in China between Premier Li Keqiang and leaders of five Southeast Asian countries, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said the Myitsone dam was an "important cooperation project".

"Very regretfully it was shelved by the Myanmar government in 2011. But the contract is still in force. How to push this cooperation forward is an important thing for both countries," he told a news conference.

"I think that the existing government has no time to get this project restarted. I believe that once the new government is in office, the Chinese government will continue to discuss with them how to restart this project."

He said he did not yet know who exactly would be representing Myanmar's government at the summit on the southern Chinese resort island of Hainan.

Myanmar's parliament elected a close friend and confidant of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as president on Tuesday, making Htin Kyaw the first head of state since the 1960s who does not hail from a military background.

Chinese diplomats have been quietly approaching senior officials in Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) about the dam, senior NLD sources have told Reuters.

While Beijing had strong ties with Myanmar's military junta, it has also moved to cement relations with Suu Kyi, who met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last year.

China's Foreign Ministry, in a statement late on Wednesday, said Xi had sent his congratulations to Htin Kyaw.

Xi said the two countries had a long tradition of friendship and deepening cooperation was in the interests of both parties.

"China is willing to work hard with Myanmar to promote the continued steady development of the all-round strategic cooperative relationship to better benefit both peoples," Xi added.