Japan must abandon project with military-owned company to build bridge in Yangon, say engineers 

Engineers have urged Japan’s foreign development agency to cut ties with the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), a military-owned conglomerate that was blacklisted by the US Treasury on Thursday in response to the February 1 coup.  

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is working with MEC on a $323m project to build a new bridge connecting central Yangon to the southeastern township of Thanlyin. 

The project, which was agreed in early 2019 and scheduled for completion in 2023, is mostly being funded with low interest loans paid by JICA to Myanmar in annual installments. Myanmar has agreed to contribute $40.6m towards the cost.

The 1,928-foot new Yangon-Thanlyin Bridge would cross the Bago River, easing traffic congestion and speeding up the flow of goods between the city center and the Thilawa Special Economic Zone, another Japan-backed project.

The Japanese company Yokogawa is working with an MEC subsidiary called the No. 2 Myaung Daga Steel Plant to produce the steel frame for the bridge, an engineer involved in the project told Myanmar Now.

But even after the US and UK announced sanctions against military-owned companies, there was still no sign that Japan was planning to abandon the project, said the engineer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

“They are communicating directly with MEC,” he said. “That didn’t matter until the end of January. But I would like to let the general public know that JICA still communicates with MEC. They have condemned the coup diplomatically, but they have been working together with the junta’s MEC.”

Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has expressed “grave concern” about the coup and called for Aung San Suu Kyi’s immediate release. 

Yokogawa has a branch office at the Myaung Daga Steel Plant in Hmawbi township and Japanese experts there are overseeing the production of the steel frames. 

The MEC subsidiary is supplying steel for two thirds of the bridge’s construction and is profiting enormously from the project, the engineer said. 

Continuing the relationship with the company while civil servants and workers across the country are on strike is tantamount to supporting the dictatorship, he added. 

Last year activists urged several Japanese companies to divest from a luxury hotel project in Yangon that they said would enrich the military. 

Japanese beer giant Kirin last month announced it was cutting ties with a military-owned brewery in Myanmar. 


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