China urged Myanmar on Saturday to protect Chinese companies' interests after the usually pliant Southeast Asian country surprisingly suspended a jointly backed, but much criticized, $3.6 billion dam project.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei called on Myanmar to hold consultations to handle any problems with the Myitsone dam and reminded the Yangon government that both countries agreed to the project after rigorous reviews.
"The Chinese government ... urges the relevant government to protect the legal and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies," Hong said in a statement carried on the ministry's website.
Myanmar President Thein Sein's Friday announcement of the suspension of the dam project, which has started construction, came after the dam project drew strong opposition from environmental activists and ethnic groups living near the site.
It was a turnabout in relations with China, which has poured billions of dollars of investment into the country to operate mines, extract timber and build oil and gas pipelines.
Some of China's biggest companies are involved in the Myitsone project, among them China Power Investment Corp., which is providing financing; China Gezhouba Group Corporation, which is building the dam; and China Southern Power Grid Corp., which expects to buy most of the power generated.