Who controls the Mekong River?
In this article we present both sides of the debate By MAXMILIAN WECHSLER
Like the two banks on the opposite sides of every river, so there are two very different views on whether the People’s Republic of China has the right to build a series of dams on the Mekong River.
Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government feels it has been perfectly justified in developing numerous hydropower projects in recent decades on the Lancang Jiang River, which originates in China high in the Tibetan plateau, and then changes its name to the Mekong once it leaves that giant communist nation.
Some observers in the Southeast Asian nations downstream of that boundary line – Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Lao PDR, and Myanmar – claim that China’s development projects have hobbled the once mighty Mekong and caused widespread devastation within their borders, affecting in particular the millions of people who depend on the river for fishing and agriculture.
The rest of the world almost unanimously takes the side of the downstream nations, but international pressure has had only limited success in pushing China to take steps to mitigate the consequences of its Mekong policy.
To give both sides a fair hearing, we present here excerpts from articles published in Thai and international press that are critical of that policy, as well as statements from the Chinese embassy in Bangkok and articles in the state-controlled Chinese press supporting the policy.
Readers can judge for themselves which side they want to be on. But first, some basic facts on the Mekong River:
The Mighty Mekong – Asia’s ‘Rice Bowl’
At about 4,350 kilometers (2,700 miles) in length, the Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia, the 7th longest in Asia and the 12th longest on the planet. The Mekong River begins in high-attitude snowfields in the province of the Tibetan Plateau, makes a run through Myanmar before demarcating the international border between Myanmar and Laos, forms part of the border between Laos and Thailand, then heads south and southeast through Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea south of Ho Chi Minh City.
The Mekong River Basin drains a total land area of 795,000 square kilometers from the eastern watershed of the Tibetan Plateau to the Mekong Delta.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) notes that the Greater Mekong region holds irreplaceable riches – ranging from rare wildlife in spectacular natural landscapes to communities with distinct cultural heritages. The vast region drained by the lower Mekong, around 200 million acres, includes some of the most biologically diverse habitats in the world. At least 1,100 freshwater species swim the waters of the Mekong including the last remaining populations of the Irrawaddy dolphin, giant freshwater stingray, and the Mekong giant catfish.
WWF says unprecedented social and economic development in the Greater Mekong makes conservation work here especially urgent and significant. The most pressing threats are hydropower development, climate change, illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss.
The Mekong River Commission (MRC) was established in 1995 through the multilateral Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin between the governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam. The four countries recognized their common interest in jointly managing shared water resources and developing the economic potential of the river. The MRC mandates cooperation ‘in all fields of sustainable development, utilization, management and conservation of the water and related resources of the Mekong River Basin.
Both Myanmar and China are dialogue partners and but not full members of the commission. China is apparently not obliged to consult with MRC downstream members about its activities on the upper Mekong, although in 2016 Beijing did launch a Mekong water cooperation initiative called the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) framework with Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. Critics welcomed the potential for cooperation, but said the framework could provide China with a legal basis for weaponizing water for economic and geopolitical gains.
What the Thai and international media say
Killing the Mekong dam
• Marc Goichot, chief water resources expert for the WWF Mekong region, sums up the river’s acute crisis: “Today, water quality is degrading fast. The drought in 2015 was the worst on record, floods are more frequent, fish catches are declining and the entire riverbed and river bank are eroding. The Mekong delta is literally sinking and shrinking.”
Meanwhile a Finnish study reports that hydrology of the river has suffered major changes from Chinese dams. The annual flood pulse during the monsoon season has been seriously disrupted by reduced water flow.
But can the world’s most valuable freshwater fisheries, on whom 60 million people depend for food security, survive the threats posed by the dams?
Dr Martin Mallen-Cooper, a fisheries specialist and research professor at Australia’s Charles Sturt University, is sceptical: “Assessment and mitigation of impacts are not a priority for developers of Mekong dams and impacts are often poorly understood.”
Australian Mekong specialist at Sydney University, Dr Philip Hirsch, told this correspondent: “In 40 years of research, I have never seen a dam that has been successfully mitigated.”
• In meetings with the other Mekong states – Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam – China talks about a “community of shared future.” But as China’s economy and its ambitions have both expanded, so have its goals for the Mekong. Beijing has expanded its control of the waters by building new hydroelectric dams and by what some experts call hydro diplomacy, creating and financing a new governing body on the river that rivals a former Western-supported group. For critics, control of the waterway is a key move in China’s attempt to establish itself as a regional hegemony; for locals by the river, it’s also a potential environmental and economic disaster.
China’s Mekong plans threaten disaster for countries downstream
This has not gone unnoticed, especially in Thailand, where grassroots organizations have joined with environmentalists to protest Chinese activities on the river.
Water risk rising on the Mekong
■ China’s newly consolidated ability to stop the river’s flow to SE Asia points to an emerging new regional flashpoint. The Mekong River, a waterway that originates in China and snakes through five Southeast Asian countries, is emerging as a new security flashpoint, similar in dynamic to escalating conflicts in the South China Sea.
China has built 11 dams and has plans for another eight along its upper stretch of the river, which begins in the Tibetan Plateau, stretches through much of mainland Southeast Asia, and ends in Vietnam’s rice-producing Mekong Delta.
Apart from the environmental consequences, there is an emerging strategic component to the dams, one that has reduced Southeast Asian nations’ leverage vis-à-vis China and its wider designs for the neighboring region.
Speaking on August 1, 2019 after a Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial meeting in Bangkok, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted: “We see a spree of upstream dam building which concentrates control over downstream flows.”
In 2017, Eugene Chow, an independent analyst, described China’s dams as weapons “hidden in plain sight” that “allow it to hold a quarter of the world’s population hostage without firing a single shot.”
“Next time, China could well demand something in return, and a desperately thirsty country may not be able to refuse. China could, in short, use its dams to weaponize water,” Brahma Chellaney, a professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, recently wrote. “As droughts become more frequent and severe, China’s dam network gives it increasing leverage over downriver countries,” he added.
• About every month, a few Chinese gunboats cruise down the Mekong River through Myanmar and Laos from China’s Guanlei port. The Golden Triangle is known for being a drug-trafficking hub. The monthly patrols aim “to make the border river safer,” according to China’s Xinhua News Agency.
The Chinese gunboat presence is “just to remind neighbors of the influence they can wield and that the hard power, the sharp power they hold is increasing, and I don't see that ebbing anytime soon,” says Elliot Brennan, a research fellow at the Institute for Security and Development Policy based in Bangkok.
China reshapes the vital Mekong River to power its expansion
What’s more, China is building a series of hydropower dams on the Mekong, which analysts say will produce needed electricity while posing major threats to the environment – and will further expand its control in the region
China’s drain on Mekong
• More water discharged from Chinese dams to the lower Mekong River in the dry season and less water in the rainy season. That means a reduction of drought and flooding in the lower Mekong countries. That was the ideal “cooperation” Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam expected from China. In reality, China seems to have done the opposite.
A new study, conducted by Eyes on Earth Inc, vividly points out that China turned off its taps on the upper stretches of the river last year as it enjoyed higher than usual precipitation due to heavy rainfall and snowmelt. Its action resulted in an unusually severe drought in the four Mekong countries downstream. The study also shows that the 11 Chinese dams have stored a high volume of water over the past three decades.
The findings from the study have indicated that sudden floods on the lower Mekong in the past years could be attributed to China’s regulation of the Mekong flow – discharging overabundant water to avoid floods in the Lancang stretches
• Thailand on April 17 called for a joint study with China and neighboring countries to determine what caused a devastating drought in the Lower Mekong Basin last year, after a US-funded report indicated that Chinese dams had restricted the flow of water downstream.
The MRC said April 15 that the study released earlier this week by American firm Eyes on Earth did not prove that the withholding of water from 11 Chinese dams upstream had caused the drought.
“At the moment we don’t know the clear cause of the drought,” Somkiat Prajamwong, director of Thailand’s Office of Natural Water Resources, told BenarNews when asked about the study funded by the US government. “We have to exchange information and co-study it with China and Lower Mekong countries.” Somkiat said MRC members met with a Chinese delegation in February but did not reach an agreement on what caused the drought.
MRC’s secretariat told Reuters that it had sought more information from China as well as a more formal working relationship, but only received water-level and rainfall data during flood season, from only two of the Chinese dams
Thailand proposes joint study with China, neighbors on Mekong River drought
Dams development & disaster on the Mekong
• Given the Mekong’s critical state arising from 11 Chinese dams and the recent Xayaburi dam in Lao, a moratorium on all hydropower construction on the Mekong as part of a “New Deal to Save our Mekong” is needed now before it’s too late.
Among the great rivers – the Amazon, the Nile and the Ganges – the freshwater fisheries of the Mekong ranks as the most important in the world.
But many scientists did predict it. And indeed the disaster predicted has come about. China and Laos have engaged in a headlong rush to dam every river and in particular the mainstream
In July 2019, villagers surveyed the protruding sand banks of the once mighty Mekong, in places reduced to a trickle. It was the worst-ever drought since records began. Many people pointed to the 11 dams upstream in China as the main cause of their woes
It is precisely the frenzied development of hydropower along the Mekong both in China and in Laos during the last 15 years that has plunged the river into what is a massively damaged ecosystem, endangered food security and produced the present crisis.
Contrary to China’s denials, a scientific report from Eyes on Earth concludes “from September 2019 China’s portion of the upper Mekong received uncommonly high levels of rainfall, and yet its dams blocked or restricted more water than ever before as downstream rivers suffered an unprecedented drought.”
China’s control of the Mekong published
• A recently published report by Eyes on Earth, Inc. has pointed the finger at Chinese dams holding back water as having significantly contributed to the major drought impacting the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. The drought’s effects have been felt by millions and hamper efforts to support development in the region.
The report’s findings, which have been contested by China, added further weight to the growing concern over Beijing’s control of the vital waterway, which begins in China as the Lancang then flows through Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Water levels in the Lower Mekong were recorded at levels unseen in 50 years and have substantially impacted fishing and agricultural activity
• Researchers are worried that Chinese dams will hold back much of the water in the Mekong River this year, similar to last year’s erratic flow after the monsoon which exacerbated the drought in the Northeast of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
China’s dams have recently contributed towards aggravating the drought in the Northeast of Thailand and other lower Mekong countries like Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, according to a group of researchers in the United States.
There is no direct relationship between the drought in the northern provinces of Thailand and China’s dams, but China’s water restrictions have worsened the drought in the provinces, the researchers said.
All eyes on Chinese dams as Mekong countries count down to the monsoon
China pressed on dams as Mekong falls to record lows
■ China has built 11 dams on its section of the river while downstream countries, including underdeveloped Laos, have dozens of hydropower dams built or in planning – many funded by Chinese-backed companies.
The dam-building spree in China, as well as in Laos, has incited worry from the US, which vies with Beijing for geopolitical influence in Southeast Asia.
US Secretary of State Pompeo last year warned that China’s dam-building spree “concentrates control” over the Mekong’s downstream flow.
Beijing has long denied responsibility for the low water flows, and its foreign minister Wang Yi last year said that China had released more water on the request of Thailand, which was experiencing a drought.
Water wars: Mekong River another front in US-China rivalry
• The Mekong River has become a new front in the US-China rivalry, environmentalists and officials say, with Beijing overtaking Washington in both spending and influence over downstream countries at the mercy of its control of the river’s waters.
That control enables China to set the agenda for development linked to the waterway, and to exclude the US from a role after decades of promoting Mekong projects as a way to exert its influence in the region.
A US ambassador in the region described China as “hoarding” water in its 11 dams on its upper portion of the 4,350 kilometer river, harming the livelihoods of millions of people in downstream countries.
China also has been stepping up activities of its LMC, a relatively new intergovernmental body that a second US ambassador decried as trying to “sideline” the 25-year-old MRC.
The study by Eyes on Earth, a US-based research and consulting company specializing in water. US Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy said he was “quite surprised” at the stark findings. “That was the same here in the region,” Murphy said, referring to the reaction to the revelation.
• The inter-governmental MRC on August 7 urged China and Southeast Asian countries to share more data on hydropower dam operations, as water flow in the Mekong hit record low levels for a second consecutive year.
A report by the commission attributes the low water level to two years of reduced rainfall and the operations of 13 Mekong hydropower dams – two in Laos and 11 in China – as well as dams on Mekong tributaries in Laos. The Mekong also flows through part of Myanmar.
The report said the low flow could have severe impacts on communities in its member countries – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – due to loss of fisheries and irrigation potential.
Mekong nations pressed to share data as water level falls to new low
China's Communist Party knows how to quell a restive population – but what about its environment?
• Water has also been a contentious issue between China and countries downstream, including Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. To date, China has no formal water treaties with those countries. China has built the overwhelming share of dams along the Mekong River.
In April this year, American environmental consultancy Eyes on Earth accused China of withholding water during a 2019 drought that devastated communities downstream.
Dr.Yeophantong [a political scientist and China expert at the University of New South Wales Canberra] said conflicts involving Asia’s largest rivers, including the Mekong, could turn into “a catastrophe that has spill-over effects on other countries”, as climate change is tipped to exacerbate floods and drier monsoon seasons, which could significantly disrupt livelihoods.
Excerpts from Chinese embassy statements and articles supporting China
• The Chinese embassy in Thailand has noted certain media’s recent report on the Mekong River with false accusations against China. Ignoring the joint efforts made by China, Thailand and other relevant parties to promote Mekong water resources cooperation for the benefit of the people in the region, these groundless accusations mislead the readers, and undermine the good atmosphere of sub-regional cooperation.
The Chinese embassy in Thailand would like to share the following facts: The Mekong River, connecting China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam closely together, is a gift from nature and embodies a natural bond of mutual support.
Chinese embassy spokesperson’s remarks on Mekong-related media report targeting China
Under the framework of LMC, our six countries have established the Environmental Cooperation Center and Water Resources Cooperation Center, implemented the Green Lancang-Mekong Plan and a Five-Year Action Plan on Water Resources Cooperation. We have also actively engaged in sustainable infrastructure construction, investment and financing.
The six countries, international organizations and NGOs never cease their efforts to enhance technical cooperation, as well as personnel and information exchanges for the purpose of realizing environmental protection and sustainable development of the Mekong basin.
On so-called “Rapids Blasting:” From 2016 to 2017, the preliminary work was done on the second phase of the Navigation Channel Improvement Project under the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation (GMS), according to the consensus reached by governments of China, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. Experts from the four countries carried out the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment on the premise of not affecting the natural and geographical features of the Lancang-Mekong River. The preliminary work also involved relevant parties including the NGOs and took into full consideration different parties’ views. Up till now, our four countries have had no engineering plan, let alone any action of the so-called “rapids blasting”.
Frequent floods and droughts in the Mekong basin are the effects of global climate change. The construction of cascade reservoirs on the Lancang River is an effective measure against climate change. The cascade hydropower stations which discharge water in the dry season and store water in the wet season, are able to help adjust the water level of the Lancang-Mekong River (LMR).
Thanks to the reservoirs’ water supplement during the dry season, for the first time in the dry season could ships navigate through the upper and middle reaches of the Mekong River where the water is shallow and shoals scatter. Local communities are thus provided with a more convenient and green way of transportation. In 2013 and 2016, the entire LMR was struck by severe droughts. China, although hit by the disaster, provided emergency water supplement to the downstream Mekong River despite all the difficulties, helping 60 million people in the downstream area to get over droughts.
Starting from 2003, the Chinese side has been providing flood season hydrological data of the Lancang River through the MRC to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, informing them in advance of the regulation schemes of the dams. Both the MRC and downstream countries have expressed their appreciation.
Rebutting US claims, China says dams unrelated to
• The Chinese embassy in Bangkok dismissed a US-funded study accusing China’s dams of hoarding water in the vital Mekong River. In a statement released to Khaosod English, the embassy said the extreme drought felt by Mekong’s downstream countries in 2019 were caused by exceptionally low rainfalls and arid temperature, and not the dams China built in its section of the Mekong, known locally as the Lancang River.
“The research by Eyes on Earth Inc. did not consider precipitation levels and complication of water flows. It does not reflect hydrological realities,” it said. “Their results are mostly calculated trends, not the actual water flows on the long term.”
The observations led the researchers to conclude that China-controlled dams upstream affected the water flow; they also reported that the dams were completely filled at the time of Thailand’s drought.
But the embassy said satellite findings are “highly inaccurate” since they do not consider other parameters, such as precipitation levels and water levels.
• China was one of the countries that suffered the most from a severe drought along the LMR in 2019, hydrology researchers found, in contrast with allegations by some foreign researchers which blamed China for the drought in countries on lower reaches of the river.
As a severe drought hit countries in the Lancang-Mekong River Basin (LMRB) from late 2019 to early 2020, risking water shortages and damage to crop production, some US media outlets blamed China for the disaster. Such reports alleged dams built in China controlled the upstream flow to use the water for domestic hydropower or irrigation.
A latest report by Chinese researchers refuted this causal link and reckless accusation by US media, as scientists have found continued high temperatures and decreasing rainfall are the main causes of the drought.
More than 10 global experts from the US, UK, LMRB countries, and cross-national organizations at an virtual international seminar acknowledged on Tuesday the sound research methods and evidence used in the Chinese scholars’ research on the main causes of the severe regional drought in 2019. They agreed that cascade reservoirs along the Lancang River helped alleviate the drought downstream.
The report’s conclusion echoed the MRC which concluded in November 2019 that the drought was caused by insufficient rainfall during the wet season with a delayed arrival and earlier departure of the monsoon rain, and an El Niño event that led to abnormally high temperatures and high evapotranspiration.
However, this conclusion has been constantly denied and ignored by foreign media and some US institutions. Some observers said such denial comes from attempts to play countries along the LMRB against each other.
On April 21, the MRC Secretariat made a science-based assessment on this drought, based on its weekly flood situation reports for a period of time. The assessment found that reduced precipitation and abnormality in the monsoon season combined with an extreme El Niño event was the main cause of the drought. There is no reason in justifying the claim China is responsible for the drought in downstream countries, it concludes.
Southwest China’s Yunnan Province has also been suffering from a severe drought since last year. Despite this, China has been doing its best to guarantee reasonable discharge volumes downstream, Chinese Foreign Ministry’s then spokesperson Geng Shuang said during a regular press conference on April 21.
Six countries located in the LMR basin joined a series of online meetings led by China over the past months to facilitate dialogue on establishing an information sharing platform to boost transparency and cooperation in water resources management.
River dams in China helped alleviate drought along Lancang-Mekong, research finds
China to share annual Lancang River data with Mekong countries
• Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on August 24 announced China will share the annual hydrological information of the Lancang River with Mekong countries starting from this year, to better address climate change as well as floods and droughts. Li made the remarks while attending the third LMC Leaders’ meeting via video link from Beijing.
Calling the six Lancang-Mekong countries a de facto community with a shared future linked by the same water, Li said their cooperation originates from water, which is an important part of cooperation, and enriches the LMC spirit of friendship, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation.
Over the past four years since the mechanism was put in place, Lancang-Mekong countries have ramped up institutional cooperation on water resources, said the premier.
“China is willing to offer more assistance within its capacity to other Lancang-Mekong countries for better utilizing water resources,” Li said. In addition, China will join with other countries this year to build an information sharing platform of water resources cooperation, according to Li.
The premier also announced such moves as the regular holding of ministerial meetings and forums on water resources cooperation, the implementation of a five-year-plan on Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation, as well as the implementation of cooperation programs on dam security and flood alerts.
Chinese premier raises proposals to enhance Lancang-Mekong cooperation
• Chinese Premier Li Keqiang raised six proposals to enhance Lancang-Mekong cooperation as the third LMC Leaders’ Meeting was convened August 24 via video link.
The Chinese proposals included promoting water resources cooperation, expanding trade ties and connectivity cooperation, deepening cooperation on sustainable development, upgrading cooperation on public health, strengthening cooperation on people’s livelihoods, and upholding the spirit of openness and inclusiveness.
“The launch of the LMC has been motivated by a river. Drinking water from the same river, the LMC countries are as close as one family,” said Li. “Over the past four years, the LMC has grown rapidly and entered a period of all-round development. It has become a new fountain of strength for regional development, and delivered real benefits to people of all related countries.”
Li said that starting from this year China will share Lancang River’s hydrological data for the whole year with the Mekong countries.
On the sidelines of the meeting, Li and other LMC leaders jointly attended a handover ceremony of Myanmar taking over the next co-chair of LMC.
• In recent years, with the active push of the LMC mechanism, the development and management of the river's water resources is becoming a reality. Under these circumstances, as a major country outside the region, the motive behind the US’ exceptional concern over the LMR smells of ulterior motives.
China’s positive role in the development of water resources in the LMR has been acknowledged by the other five countries. As an important mechanism for managing resources in the lower reaches, the Mekong River Commission has tried to clear the misunderstanding about China’s role by issuing data and reports, and giving media interviews, emphasizing that the droughts in the region are caused by extreme weather conditions rather than China’s construction of dams on the Lancang.
US tricks can’t divide Lancang-Mekong nations
In April this year, the so-called investigation report sponsored by the US was an attempt to interfere in the mutual trust-based cooperation between China and the Mekong countries, by claiming that the rainfall in the Lancang River catchment area in 2019 was no less than in previous years, but the volume of water flow from China to the Mekong countries in the lower reaches was much lower.
Commentary: Hyping Mekong water resources issue a political farce
• Certain US politicians have been hyping the issue of the Mekong water resources through groundless comments and unreliable reports in an attempt to sow discord between countries and sabotage the atmosphere for the LMC.
David Stilwell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, said earlier this month that China’s “manipulation” of the Mekong River flows was an immediate challenge to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). He cited a report claiming that “China has been manipulating the water flows along the Mekong for 25 years, with the greatest disruption in natural flows coinciding with major dam construction and operation.”
The report, presumably a study by Eyes on Earth, alleged that China had impounded 280 billion cubic meters of water. In fact, the maximum capacity of Chinese reservoirs is just 42 billion cubic meters. A report with such an obvious deviation from facts has no scientific value and has been found to be gravely flawed by many international hydrological experts.
Experts have found that since China’s cascade reservoirs were put into use, dry-season flows in relevant sections have increased by 20 percent compared to past natural levels. The latest report by the MRC released in August also acknowledged the reservoirs’ function of storing water in the flood season for later use in the dry season, which helps maintain the steady flow of the Mekong. On the whole, the hydropower facilities in China play a beneficial role for Mekong countries.
In addition, China has for 18 consecutive years been providing flood-season hydrological data free-of-charge for the MRC and lower-stream countries and has been helping them formulate plans for flood prevention and drought mitigation. Since the LMC mechanism was launched, China has sent emergency warnings on major changes in the outflows of the Jinghong hydropower plant more than 10 times.
Starting from 2020, China will share the Lancang River’s hydrological data for the whole year with Mekong countries, according to the third LMC leaders’ meeting held in late August.
US smear campaign against Mekong River dams riddled with loopholes
• US intervention in the Mekong River water resource issues is found to be an attempt to contain China in the region under the pretext of a presumed Chinese dam threat based on weak evidence and sources from ill-intentioned US-backed institutions.
The US bluntly targeted China by accusing it of causing droughts in the region, and in a recent tweet the US embassy in Beijing even claimed that China encourages drug and weapons trafficking in the region, which experts say is not worth refuting.
“We advise US diplomats to be cautious about citing such a report that many global hydrological experts say is faulty and has little scientific value,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
Mekong countries welcome water sharing, construction assistance under LMC mechanism
• Although the US has tried to provoke ASEAN countries against China, most officials and citizens in these countries are seemingly not willing to join the works.
Daw Than Than Htay, a member of Myanmar
Institute of Strategic and International Studies, told the Global Times that accusations against China are clearly coming from countries outside the Mekong River region, adding that China has always tried to regulate the Lancang River reservoirs to ensure downstream water demand during both dry seasons and floods.
When the southern part of Vietnam experienced severe drought and seawater flooding a few years ago, China immediately released water reserved in the upstream dams to aid floods.
In its early days, the initiative prioritized capacity building in environmental protection, education, public health and infrastructure. Although then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unfoundedly criticized China for its dams on the upper reaches of the river, no substantial cooperation on water resources was conducted.
On September 14, the US announced the launch of the Mekong-US partnership for sustained growth of its Mekong partners and pledged to increase investment and cooperation. At the same time, it continued to hype environmental and resources issues and tarnish China’s efforts in the area. It accused China of “manipulating” the LMR flows, disregarding the fact that China has been providing hydrological data for the MRC and downstream countries for 18 consecutive years and helping them formulate plans for flood prevention and drought mitigation.
The renewed attempt is an example of the current US strategy toward China. Compared with the policies of the Obama administration, it is more aggressive. The management of trans-boundary rivers has always been a complex and sensitive issue. Some scholars think this can lead to water wars among the river-sharing countries.
China has always taken an active part in multilateral cooperation with regional countries. It joined the GMS mechanism in 1992. In 1996, it became a dialogue partner of the MRC, an inter-governmental river basin organization initiated by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. It signed the first hydrological data-sharing agreement with the commission in 2002, promising to share data about daily river flows and rainfall data upstream during the rainy season.
At the 17th leaders’ meeting between China
US manipulation can’t divide Lancang-Mekong countries
and the ASEAN in 2014, in response to Thailand’s proposal of strengthening sustainable development of the Lancang-Mekong subregion, China initiated a cooperation mechanism, which gained general support.
Over the past five years since its establishment, the LMC mechanism has been improved under the principles of consensus, equality, voluntarism, mutual consultation and coordination, common contribution and shared benefits. It has made progress in practical cooperation in many areas including sharing water resources, and has become an effective platform for exchanges between China and other Lancang-Mekong countries.
China has always regarded ASEAN countries as a priority in its neighborhood diplomacy. The Lancang-Mekong countries are linked by mountains and rivers, and enjoy profound friendship and inherent geographical advantages in cooperation.
The US has been stirring up issues between China and some ASEAN countries over the South China Sea, which has undermined regional peace and stability.