Mekong Eye

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Mekong River to become new South China Sea for regional disputes?

The Beijing-led Lancang-Mekong Cooperation mechanism was set up to help ease tensions over development projects, but NGOs are unconvinced

By Catherine Wong

Beijing, January 3, 2018


While the LMC has attracted little attention from the international media, Beijing has been quietly promoting its agenda through the platform, claiming it is one of the best ways to boost its ties with Asean.

“China’s establishment of the LMC reflects a belated recognition that the policies China has followed in relation to the Mekong/Lancang River have paid far too little attention to the interests of the downstream countries through which the river flows after it leaves Yunnan,” Milton Osborne, a former Australian diplomat and Southeast Asia specialist, said.

In the two years since the LMC’s creation, China has hosted three foreign ministers meetings and set aside billions of dollars to support 45 projects under the mechanism, from water resource research centres to cooperation on connectivity projects, industrial capacity, border trade, agriculture and poverty alleviation.

Driven by a growing appetite for energy in the region, some countries along the river have been happy to follow in China’s footsteps.

The poor, landlocked country of Laos, for instance, is pushing ahead with its plan for a third dam on the Mekong despite opposition from its downstream neighbour Vietnam and the MRC after setting itself the goal of becoming “the battery of Southeast Asia” by exporting hydropower.

“Chinese companies are directly investing in more than six mainstream dams on the Lower Mekong, including Don Sahong and Pak Beng in Laos,” Deetes said. “Development of these dams has not followed international good practice for considering, and avoiding or mitigating social and environmental impact.”

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