Video: Southeast Asia’s most momentous mega-project

The World

Of the many mega-projects proposed in Burma, one eclipses them all: the planned $50 billion Dawei port.

A deep-sea port designed to receive sea-faring shipments from Europe and the Middle East sits at the core of the project. But developers also hope to build oil refineries and major highways linking the port to major capitals as far away as Vietnam. If completed, it would be "Southeast Asia's largest industrial complex," according to Reuters.

Looking at a map of Southeast Asia, it's surprising that such a strategically obvious port isn't already up and running. Dawei is a straight shot to Bangkok, currently reached from the West after burning loads of extra fuel navigating a crowded sea lane off Malaysia's coast.

Were Burma not ruled by an isolationist and sanctioned junta for five decades, the port might very well exist already. As U.S.-born Burmese historian Thant Myint-U writes, "ancient barriers are being broken and the map of Asia is being redone."

In a piece titled "Chasing Riches? Mind the Guerrillas," I wrote this week that the coming wave of post-sanctions investors in Burma will need to factor in the desires of the varied ethnic groups — and their armed factions — that lay claim to more than half of the country's territory.

Sabotage is always an option for these seasoned jungle fighters, whose leadership may decide a foreign-owned project is exploitative or environmentally damaging. The Karen ethnic army has already blocked trucks en route to the Dawei port.

But the video below, shot along Dawei's scrubby coast by Al-Jazeera, suggests peaceful negotiation may trump force.

Yes, villagers living in the project's path are being pushed into relocation zones and, no, they're not happy about it. But they are openly organizing to assert their demands to the government.

This type of proposition would have been nearly unthinkable in the recent past.

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