China, Asia leaders discuss Mekong dam projects

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Cambodian fisherman Sles Hiet lives at the mercy of the Mekong: a massive river that feeds tens of millions but is under threat from the Chinese dams cementing Beijing's physical - and diplomatic - control over its Southeast Asian neighbours.

The world's 12th-longest river, the Mekong runs almost 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) from the Tibetan Plateau down into mainland Southeast Asia before emptying into the South China Sea in Vietnam.

A joint statement after the state trip lauded the "important and fruitful outcomes of the visit", which includes continued medical checkups in China for Cambodia's king and queen mother. "But we just demand a foundation of no discrimination, no interference in our internal affairs", Eysan said. Chheang Vannarith, vice-chairman of the board of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, said the second LMC leaders' meeting reflects the leaders' joint efforts and commitment to build a community of shared future in the sub-region.

Keqiang, whose country sits at the top of the river known as the Lancang in Mandarin, said as permanent chairman of the newly minted LMC, China would deliver benefits to all members.

Policy research organizations, many of them aligned with the six riverine governments, joined to form the Global Center for Mekong Studies past year to advise LMC member countries on a range of topics from politics to business.

Hun Sen said at the opening that the summit theme of "our river of peace and sustainable development" must be realised in implementation.

"We want to properly address the relationship between up- and downstream countries and accommodate the interests of all countries along the river", he said. This would also build trust for its larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plan, he said.

Concern is growing that the potential for causing ecological damage will make the Mekong a flashpoint for China and Southeast Asia's territorial disputes - effectively creating a new South China Sea.

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A similar multilateral mechanism, the MRC, which is backed by the West, has been criticized for being unable to stop a number of controversial hydropower dams along the Mekong River.

That the upstream dams are in China has allowed "water diplomacy" to emerge.

It can also modulate water levels, a powerful bargaining chip displayed in 2016 when China opened dam gates on its soil to help Vietnam mitigate a severe drought. Vietnam asked China to release water and when China agreed, called the move a "gesture of goodwill".

China has pledged billions in financing for more projects on the Mekong through the LMC.

In Cambodia, China is supporting Prime Minister Hun Sen's crackdown on dissent and Cambodia is supporting China on many regional and worldwide agendas.

Cambodia has said China will provide various equipment for the July election, including ballot boxes and booths.

Since the official launch of the LMC mechanism in March 2016, it has established a "3+5" mechanism of cooperation, referring to the three cooperation pillars - political and security issues, economic and sustainable development, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges - and the five key priority areas of connectivity, production capacity, cross-border economic cooperation, water resources, and agriculture and poverty reduction.

"For Cambodia's part, we seek investment on connectivity, irrigation infrastructure, and projects toward lower energy costs that could attract more investments and create more jobs".

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