By Yukako Ono
Stung Treng, May 9, 2018
China’s controversial dam building — both on its section of the river upstream and, increasingly, in Southeast Asia — is dramatically changing the livelihoods of many of the 60 million people living in the region who depend on the Mekong for water, fish, transportation and irrigation.
Its control of the water upstream is a particular source of friction and concern to the countries further south. Some experts compare the downstream Mekong countries’ water security risk — which includes risks to their food supplies and commercial activity — to China’s controversial island-building in the South China Sea.
“What China has done by damming the Mekong and gaining undue leverage over downstream countries is analogous and connected to its ongoing construction and weaponization of artificial islands in the South China Sea,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University. “Beijing’s approach is as simple as it is controversial, for all to see: build first, talk later.”