Drowning in generosity

Again?” Chai Tamuen, 42, thought when he saw Mekong water rising at the riverbank of Chiang Khan district in Loei eight days ago.

Overnight, water had engulfed the sandy shore of Kaeng Khut Khu, a tourist spot popular for swimming and recreation, leaving stalls stranded on an “island” now surrounded by water.

As a vendor, Mr Chai was forced to leave his kiosk four days later when water submerged half of the island.

“This is not the first time that the bank has been flooded in dry season. It’s happened like this for the last five years,” he said.

“We can’t predict water. Our income has not been stable since Chinese dams have taken control over the water upstream.”

China announced on March 14 it would discharge a massive quantity of water from one of its dams, claiming it would help communities in the Mekong region facing severe drought.

China Focus: Lancang-Mekong cooperation enriches countries along the river

A border railway station which has been in existence for more than 100 years in southwest China’s Yunnan Province got a new lease on life last year after having been left desolate for a decade.

The cargo train via Shanyao Station on the China-Vietnam border hit the buffers in 2013 and was suspended for a while. The service has since resumed and is now busier than ever.

A railway linking Kunming in Yunnan province and the border with Vietnam opened in December 2014 and the following year 366,400 tonnes of cargo — iron ore, sulfur, fertilizer and so on — flowed from China into Vietnam via Shanyao, over 100 times more than the year before. Already this year, 89,700 tonnes of goods have gone the same way.

Water management center for Mekong River to be established

The Prime Minister has revealed a water management center will be set up under the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation (MLC) to manage water levels in the Mekong River more effectively.

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said after returning from the first MLC meeting in China that the water management center will alert countries in the Mekong River Basin to be prepared whenever China discharges water into the river.

NGOs question China’s dam release

One week ago, China doubled the quantity of water released from the Jinghong Dam along the Mekong River in Yunnan province. This came two days following Vietnamese officials meeting in Beijing to request the increase due to severe drought conditions and low flows in the Mekong Delta. But at a press conference in Bangkok yesterday, representatives of Thai civil society and communities denounced the action as destructive and insincere.

“No one doubts that people in the Vietnamese Delta may be suffering from salt water intrusion due to low Mekong flows this dry season,” said Montree Chantawong from Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA), “But these additional dam releases can’t really help them, yet are hurting many of us.”

China leaves little doubt who is master of the Mekong

Supalak Ganjanakundee China is demonstrating that it has real power to control and manage the Mekong River, as Beijing launches a diplomatic campaign to engage with affected countries downstream. This situation has become clear after China’s contacts with the other five countries along the river – Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Physically, about half […]

China’s alarming ‘water diplomacy’ on the Mekong

At first glance, it looks beneficent. As countries along the Lower Mekong river that snakes through mainland Southeast Asia struggled in the grip of a severe drought, China announced it would release water from its upstream Jinghong dam over nearly a month from March 15. The announcement was partly intended as a goodwill gesture one week ahead of the inaugural Lancang-Mekong Cooperation summit of leaders of the six Mekong region countries.

But while the water release will spell some immediate relief for the drought-stricken region, it portends future geopolitical tensions between China and its southern Mekong neighbors. Having unilaterally accumulated political power by exploiting geography and manipulating natural waterways through the construction of a slew of upriver dams, China appears intent to set the regional water management rules as it deems fit.

The Mekong, which the Chinese refer to as Lancang, is Asia’s seventh-longest river and provides livelihoods and habitats for riverfront communities and natural wildlife throughout its meandering flow from China and Myanmar to Laos and Thailand, down to Cambodia and Vietnam before it reaches the sea. China’s damming of the upper Mekong has long been considered a geopolitical risk for the lower riparian states and a source of potential conflict for the entire Greater Mekong Subregion — encompassing Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. That risk has manifested itself in an inchoate fashion through the annual dry seasons, when about 60 million people in fishing villages and communities along the Mekong are severely affected. But any protest has been silenced by geopolitical realities.