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Myanmar seeks to ease Beijing worries over dam
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Oct 10, 2011

Myanmar's foreign minister held talks Monday with Chinese leaders to try to ease Beijing's concerns over the halting of a $3.6 billion Chinese-backed mega dam project, state media and an official said.

Myanmar last month ordered work on the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River to stop -- triggering a rare public rebuke from China, its second-largest trading partner and biggest foreign investor.

Wunna Maung Lwin told Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in Beijing that Myanmar "cherishes friendly relations with China" and attaches "great importance" to its concerns over the hydropower project, state media said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters the two neighbours had agreed "to handle this project in the proper way and continue to move forward with bilateral relations, which are very important to us".

Myanmar's surprise decision to halt construction of the Chinese-backed hydropower project for several years at least -- risking Beijing's anger -- was a rare concession to public opinion in the authoritarian nation.

China's official Xinhua news agency quoted Lu Qizhou, president of China Power Investment Corp, the giant behind the dam project, as saying he was "totally astonished" by the move, which he learned about through media reports.

Energy-hungry China has been pouring money into the isolated state's sizeable natural resources.

The project in northern Kachin state attracted opposition from pro-democracy groups and environmentalists, testing the limits of freedom under Myanmar's new nominally civilian regime.

But Beijing has repeatedly defended the project as having very little impact on the environment and has urged the Myanmar government to protect the interests of Chinese companies operating in the country.

"The two sides have expressed the hope and belief that we can find a way to appropriately handle it through friendly consultation," Liu, the Chinese spokesman, said.

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