Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Interview with Yin Hongwei

Yin Hongwei, chief reporter for China’s World View magazine and professor of the Journalism and Communications Department, Southwest China University of Political Science, visited Eleven Media Group (EMG) on August 28 and had an interview with EMG CEO Dr Than Htut Aung about China-Myanmar relationship. In 2012 also, he arrived in Myanmar and had an interview with Dr Than Htut Aung about the same topic. The second interview is published in the newspaper with consent of Yin Hongwei.   
What do you think about the relationship between Myanmar and China when China makes investment in Myanmar? China had a very good relationship with the former Myanmar government. However, many problems have arisen when Myanmar starts carrying out democratic reforms. What is the reason?
The key player is the former Myanmar government. It was a military junta. Most of the government officials are corrupt. Some Chinese companies were involved in corruption cases. They did business in an unlawful and unethical manner. However, they hurt themselves when Myanmar is in democratic transition. Now, they have rivals from other countries. When Myanmar media has freedom under the new government, people and media point out their unfairness, the government is no longer in a position to do what it wants. That is why problems occurred between Chinese investors and Myanmar government. Public protests and dissatisfaction emerge as the Myanmar people assume that Chinese companies and investments have harmful effects on them and the nation. 

Why did the Myanmar people protest against Myitsone dam project, Letpadaungtaung copper mine project, Kyauk Phyu gas pipeline project and now the planned railroad project?
If I say, the people do not like any of those projects. However, some will not go against the projects if the country does not suffer much although they are to be implemented under the agreement of the previous government. Political parties, journalists and activists cannot totally agree on some projects. Some can accept them with limitations. For example, we cannot accept the resumption of Myitsone project. China will ask for compensation for what they have lost. If they want to do so, we need to ask the Chinese government to deal with corruption cases. Who took bribes and how much? How much did the Myanmar government receive? If there is any corruption in doing business, it is unethical. It is illegal in the international court. The Myitsone project cannot be allowed to resume. If they consider compensation claims, the government might give them an appropriate amount of compensation. But they will not be given what it should not deserve. Whomever they try to approach, Aung San Suu Kyi or the next government, their plan will not work. Whatever government takes office-- even if it is Aung San Suu Kyi—they will face public opposition if they resume the Myitsone project. This is one factor.

Another is the railroad project. For China, the railroad is a way out to the Indian Ocean. It is the nation security issue for Myanmar. If China undertakes that railroad project using their own money under BOT (Build, operate and transfer) system for fifty years, it is not acceptable. This is because we assume that Myanmar would be another Crimea or another province for China. We have some conditions to be under the influence of China because it is a superpower. China’s military buildup, regional situations, economic, political and military growths and South China Sea dispute are a great deal of pressure on the Myanmar people and government. We will not approve of the project. We must consider for our country. The reason is not the Chinese government. Anyhow, we must see the long-term interest of our country. Letpadaungtaung copper mine project or Kyauk Phyu gas pipeline project are concerned with the local people’s interest. As they are not concerned with the whole nation, we do not show objection. Both the oil and gas pipelines have been complete. But in the Letpadaungtaung case, it is necessary to consider about the locals.  The Letpadaungtaung and Kyauk Phyu projects are no problem but the two other projects are unacceptable. 

At first, the Chinese government and its people considered all the projects as a single problem. After you have explained, I can now see them separately.
Our people are not against China. The Myanmar people are protecting their own interest. That needs to be seen. It is not true the Myanmar people hate China just because they are investing in Myanmar. We cannot accept those two projects (Myitsone and railroad projects) as they can harm the country’s interest.

I have understood about Myitsone project. However, please tell me how Myanmar and China can cooperate in investing in other sectors. 
It is the type of Investment coming from other countries like Japan and the United States and the EU, especially Asean countries in the private sector rather than investments between governments. Those investments are in hotel, tourism and construction sectors. Japan and Asean countries are investing mainly in industrial development rather than in oil and gas exploration. Meanwhile, China is making investment mainly in seeking natural resources. That will tarnish its image. They should invest in the businesses the EU, Japan and Asean are doing. China has advanced technology. I want to ask them to invest in other areas such as information technology and industrial zones, but not natural resources.

Myanmar plans to establish a special economic zone in Kyauk Phyu. Many Chinese investors want to come but they are worried about any objection. I want to know whether it is possible to relieve their worries.  
In my view, I want the Chinese government not to build the railroad in a rush. It is because armed ethnic groups from Wa and Mongla have close ties with the Chinese government. Under this circumstance, it is not possible to construct the railroad with China's funds of 50 billion. We understand that we have to construct a railroad upon completion of Kyauk Phyu deep-sea port. However, it is impossible right now. When can it be? If Myanmar’s economy improves, we can build it with our own funds. If we regain our sovereignty in Wa and Mongla regions or if the Wa armed group lays down their weapons, we will build the railroad. China will surely make a profit on the Kyauk Phyu project after ten or fifteen years. When the Wa group disarm themselves in a ten or fifteen year’s time, we can build it by ourselves, but not with China’s money. The railroad will benefit our country as well as China. However, the time is not right and we have to wait. Come to Kyauk Phyu and Rakhine State for investment. Investing in Kyauk Phyu can benefit the Chinese because Rakhine State is abundant in natural resources and work force. However, China must have more transparency to avoid protests. Like other countries, China needs to take responsibilities and make preparations. Do not worry about China’s investment in here. 

Does the government have any intention to build the railroad with financial aid from Japan and the United States if you do not want to seek Chinese help? 
I think so

What is your opinion if that happens? 
We want to suspend the project until the ethnic problems are solved. Frankly speaking, we will ask China to make the Wa armed group disarm themselves. And if a federal system emerges, then we will build the railroad with financial aid from China, Japan and other countries. We will build it if necessary. That railroad must be owned by Myanmar alone, not China. This is the main thing. We own the railroad because for the relations with China, it will link Yangon and Kyauk Phyu. It will link Kunming and Yangon and Kyauk Phyu and Kunming respectively. Motor roads and railroads will be built. But we have to wait. Our country must be stable with flourishing democracy. There must be a free and fair election. The Wa group has to surrender their weapons unconditionally. After that, we will build the railroad as the Chinese do such things in their country. Japan, the United Kingdom and EU also financially support China in building such roads. We will try to build such a railroad for business purposes.

Do you think Wa will listen to the Chinese?
They will have to listen to both Myanmar and Chinese governments. They cannot accept China only. If they do not agree with both governments to disarm, I think they will face military action.

One question is about the Chinese investors who have come from China to Myanmar. They do not have good relations with locals and ethnics. Do you know how the Chinese can change their attitude for good relations?
Both the Chinese government and people think all is Ok if they have a good relationship with the Myanmar government. Discard this belief. Actually, in Myanmar, government and people are separate. 

May I know about a more specific idea? Could you advise how to build a good relationship with the locals?
As I said earlier, it is only necessary to choose a government that has good relations with the people. If Myanmar has that kind of government, it will be easy for the Chinese to have good relations with the government. I mean if Myanmar has a democratic government aspired by the people, relations between Chinese and Myanmar people will improve. 
What do you want me to tell those who engage in the Myitsone project?
Give it up. Let alone other people, we will criticise even Aung San Suu Kyi if she talks about it. We are not against it because we like the United States and Western countries and hate China. It is only for the welfare of our country.

In the 2015 election, the Chinese see Thein Sein, Thura Shwe Mann, Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as potential candidates for presidency. What is your opinion?
Aung San Suu Kyi cannot be president according to the 2008 constitution. However, I am sure that the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will not win it. The National League for Democracy (NLD) and its allied parties will win it. In our electoral system for choosing president, three vice presidents will be choose and among them, the one who have most votes will be elected as president. The lower house and upper house choose two vice presidents. The military chooses one. Two vice presidents chosen by the lower house and upper house are elected through elections. The two cannot be a USDP candidate or army candidate. What I mean is that NLD and its allies will win it. So whatever they do for proportional representation system or steal votes, the two vice presidents will be Aung San Suu Kyi or another selected by NLD and herself. Whatever the 25 percent of MPs who are military representatives oppose them, the one who have most votes will be those elected by the lower house and upper house. I mean that incumbent President Thein Sein has less than 20 per cent to be re-elected as president. If Aung San Suu Kyi will not be president, it is very likely that the one she supports will be president. If there is any election fraud, unrest and protests will emerge. Then you cannot make investment. It is a real situation. We have had such records in history. In the 1990 election, NLD and its allies won 95 per cent of the vote. In 2012 by-election, NLD won 90 per cent and it will be like that in the 2015 election. Whatever they cheat on election, NLD and its allied parties and ethnic parties will win if they get 80 to 90 per cent of total votes. Whatever they cheat on people, everybody thinks the potential of Thein Sein to be re-elected as president will be less than 20 per cent.

If Aung San Suu Kyi cannot become president, who do you think will be elected as president?
It will be the one chosen by her. However, if the NLD wins it, the military and its allies will control 40 per cent of total power. NLD will have 60 per cent.

Before I came to Myanmar, I met with the councilors of the United States, United Kingdom and Canada in China. I asked them whether they would support Aung San Suu Kyi in the election or not. They answered me that they would not support her personally. However, they will support Myanmar’s democracy. How do you think about it?
The main thing is their business interest. China also has its interest. The Western countries have their own interest. They tend to emphasize their stability and power on Myanmar rather than helping her to develop. They may not like Aung San Suu Kyi. However if the people like her, their personal dislike will end.

Is Aung San Suu Kyi restricted by section 436? Is it necessary to amend section 436 only or the whole constitution?
Every section can be amended for the sake of national reconciliation. I mean if national reconciliation plan is successful between the military and people. Section 436 or 59 (f) can be amended if the military and people negotiate. At present, the entire constitution cannot be amended. Federal system is not possible at the moment. Peace plan has also been on the paper only. All the issues, including a federal system will take shape after 2020. Some issues can be addressed before 2015. We need to address some between 2015 and 2020. A lot of negotiations are necessary. What I mean is that power sharing and struggle will still exist between the military and the people until 2020. So those issues are not as important as constitutional amendments. The important thing is mutual trust between the military and the people. If both sides do not confront each other, we can continue to reach our goal. We can amend them. All will be complete before 2020.

What do you think about the peace talks between the government and armed ethnic groups? 
All are trying to make agreement on paper. Actually, all will not OK just after signing a ceasefire accord. It is only for a show business. The civil war in Myanmar has existed for 66 years since 1948. It is the longest civil war in the world. The 66-year civil war will not end with a merely agreement. The genuine political talks will take place between 2015 and 2020. In 2020, a new constitution will be drafted and the federal system will take shape. In the mean time, we will continue our job regularly to avoid confrontation.

Before I came here, I met with a US congressman. He asked me how Myanmar would implement a ceasefire plan and who would supervise after signing the ceasefire agreement. What is your opinion?
No one needs to supervise. We will do it by ourselves. Ethnic conflicts occurred in Myanmar not because of power struggle. It is the political issue. The problems cannot be solved by the armed groups alone. The ethnic armed groups are not strong enough. It is not the problem of armed groups. What we have is a political problem and if we make negotiation, we can disarm them. The problem is the political issue, not the military issue.

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