Mekong Eye

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Recharging Asia’s Battery

Next week, Barack Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos, a poor, landlocked country whose large-scale efforts to dam the Mekong River threaten to destabilize the region. This concerns the United States because Southeast Asia is one of the country’s largest trading partners and a key security ally that can counterbalance China’s growing regional influence. Obama should seize this opportunity to help Laos make energy choices that, over the long term, can unify the region and preserve the Mekong.

President Barack Obama, right, waves to a crowd of U.S. Service members and others Aug. 26, 2014, as he disembarks from Air Force One at the flight line of the North Carolina Air National Guard base at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C. Obama visited Charlotte to deliver remarks during the 96th American Legion National Convention about issues affecting U.S. military veterans. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Rich Kerner/Released)

By David Roberts and Jalel Sager

Vientiane, Laos, September 5, 2016

Foreign Affairs

Next week, Barack Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos, a poor, landlocked country whose large-scale efforts to dam the Mekong River threaten to destabilize the region. This concerns the United States because Southeast Asia is one of the country’s largest trading partners and a key security ally that can counterbalance China’s growing regional influence. Obama should seize this opportunity to help Laos make energy choices that, over the long term, can unify the region and preserve the Mekong.

Laos’ strategy for economic development centers on becoming the “battery of Southeast Asia” by exploiting nearly all of its massive hydropower potential on the Mekong River and its tributaries. New energy projects (nearly all large hydropower and coal) have brought in hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign direct investment annually (reaching 43 percent of the country’s total in 2015). But surprisingly little effort and underlying analysis have gone into determining whether this “all-in” approach is in the country’s best long-term interests—especially given that the dam-building, increasingly unilateral and accelerated, is upsetting Laos’ neighbors, allies, and trade partners downstream.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

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