Bangkok, Thailand, December 21, 2017
CHINA has acknowledged concerns about the impacts on people’s livelihoods of the Mekong River navigation channel improvement project, while indicating the possibility of amending or even cancelling the project.
Nevertheless, a local environmentalist group and TEAM Consulting Engineering and Management, the representative of the Chinese project’s owner, have said a study on the environmental impacts of the project was continuing as planned and there had not been any change in progress.
Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai yesterday said he had discussed the project with Chinese authorities at the third Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Mekong-Lancang Cooperation in China’s Yunnan province last Friday.
Don said Chinese officials had acknowledged the concerns of Thai people about the plan, which includes blasting rapids in the Mekong River, and said they were ready to change the scope of the project or cancel it altogether to relieve those concerns.
Don added that this could be considered as a “New Year present” for the Thai people.
Despite Don’s statement, a representative from TEAM Consulting, Tuangsaung Sakulkonchak, said there had not been a change to the project and the company was continuing to work on the environmental study and public hearings.
“Right now we are in the process of gathering environmental information and public opinions on the Mekong River navigation channel improvement project, and we have not had any notice about a change of plans from our partner,” Tuangsaung said.
TEAM is representing the Chinese project owner, CCCC Second Harbour Consultants, to gather information as part of an environmental impact assessment study.
Tuangsaung said the study had started in October and would conclude in May. The company held a public forum in Chiang Rai in September and there would be another public hearing in the same area after the study in August next year.
Jirasak Inthayot, coordinator of the local environmentalist group Rak Chiang Khong, or “Love Chiang Khong”, said the study was ongoing and there was still no sign that the project would be cancelled.
The Mekong River navigation channel improvement project is a part of the Mekong-Lancang international navigation development plan for 2015-2025.
The project aims to improve the navigation channel of the Mekong River, which is known as the Lancang in China, to allow large vessels up to 500 tonnes to navigate from China’s Yunnan province to Luang Prabang in Laos.
The Thai Cabinet approved the plan in December 2016, allowing for the study to proceed in Thailand.
The project has been the subject of strong protests from environmentalists and local people along the Mekong River in Thailand, who have said the navigation channel improvements include the removal of rapids in the river, which are indispensable features of the Mekong ecosystem.
A statement by the opposition group said modifying the river by blasting the rapids and dredging its islands would not only destroy the rich ecosystem that sustains the livelihood of local people, but also change the river’s features and affect the boundary between Thailand and Laos.