Tag Archives: Mekong

China Extends Its Sway Over Mekong River

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang address the third Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Leaders' Meeting via video link from Beijing on August 24, 2020. Photo credit: Xinhua/Rao Aimin.

NOT FOR THE first time, there is concern that China’s hydro dam-building on the Mekong river is causing environmental harm upstream and low water levels downstream. And not for the first time, Beijing is pouring money on troubled waters.

Multiple hydroelectric dams are being built along its course and its tributaries, mostly in China, which calls the upper reaches of the river the Lancang, but also in Laos, which aims to be the ‘battery of Asia’.

Beijing rejects the accusation that it causes drought conditions downstream, where the low water levels are damaging agriculture and fisheries. The Mekong is the world’s largest inland fishery.

However, two days ago, Premier Li Keqiang (seen in the screenshot above) told a video meeting of the China-led Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) initiative that Beijing was willing to offer more assistance on water resources, road, rail and river transport connectivity and public health to its Southeast Asian neighbours.

He also said that China would share data on the river waters year-round, and not just during flood season. The intergovernmental Mekong River Commission (MRC) — which involves Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and has mostly been elbowed aside by the LMC — has called for year-round data for some time.

Mekong river nations’ leverage over China is limited. Water shortages would have to get far worse for the downstream countries to risk jeopardizing their relations with Beijing by pressing it over its dams.

Laos is unlikely to compromise on its hydropower ambitions, since electricity exports bring in much-needed foreign currency. At the same time, Thailand and Vietnam will be keen to keep importing Lao hydroelectricity to power their industrial development.

Undoubtedly, it is Beijing’s vision that is driving the development of the river. This encompasses not only dams but also development projects, special economic zones and trade that will integrate the region into the Belt and Road Initiative.

At some point, that might tempt the United States to look for means to deter companies and banks involved.


Filed under China-Southeast Asia

Laos Extradites Suspected Mekong Murders Mastermind

Naw Kham (C), head of an armed drug gang, is seen during a transferring at Laos' Vientiane Wattay International airport, May 10, 2012. Naw Kham, a drug lord suspected of masterminding the murder of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River last year was transferred to Chinese police here on Thursday. (Xinhua/Thanakone)Laos has handed over to Chinese police a drug lord suspected of masterminding the execution-like killing of 13 Chinese seamen last October on the Mekong River. Naw Kham, seen, right, in transit at Vientiane airport, is a Burmese in his 40s and said to lead a heavily armed drugs trafficking gang. He was arrested on April 25, assumedly in Laos, and has been flown to Beijing.

Along with Myanmar and Thailand, China and Laos have been conducting joint armed police patrols along the often lawless upper reaches of the Mekong since last December. The area is part of the Golden Triangle, long notorious as a stronghold of Shan and Wu drug lords. They have increasingly attacked shipping on the river that refuses to pay protection money, seizing the vessels to carry amphetamines and other drugs downriver to Thailand, the region’s largest market for amphetamines, according to the UNODC. Naw Kham’s gang is believed by Chinese authorities to have been involved in 28 such attacks on Chinese freighters, some allegedly with the compliance of renegade Thai soldiers from an anti-narcotics unit.

Chinese vessels have been particularly subject to such attacks as they dominate shipping on the river, an important trade conduit between Yunnan and Southeast Asia. The four-country patrols, initiated last December after shipping on the Mekong had become too dangerous for most vessels to undertake, are lead by Chinese law-enforcement authorities. They have provided Beijing with an opportunity to play a greater security role along a regionally strategic waterway.

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Trouble For China Spreads From The Irrawaddy To The Mekong

More trouble for Beijing on its unruly southwestern reaches beyond Yunnan. Pirates seized two Chinese freighters on the upper reaches of the Mekong river in northern Thailand, killing at least 11 of their 13-strong crews and purloining the vessels to run drugs from Myanmar. Some of the sailors appear to have been executed. The attacks took place on October 5. Thai river police retook both boats in a gunfight. Some 900,000 methamphetamine tablets worth more than $3 million were reportedly recovered.

Chinese vessels plying the river as it flows through the Golden Triangle have long been targets for pirates who have sought protection money or used the boats for drugs running. Thai authorities suspect that the ethnic Shan drug trafficker Nor Kham is behind the attacks, including the latest ones. Yunnan provincial authorities have now suspended all Chinese passenger and cargo shipping on the Mekong. Nine out of ten the 130 ships involved in international shipping on the Mekong are Chinese-flagged, according to Chinese authorities responsible for maritime trade on the river.

The latest incident follows a succession of attacks on Chinese-backed hydroelectric dams on the headwaters of the Irrawaddy river in Kachin State in northern Myanmar, culminating in the suspension of work on the Myitsone dam amidst growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the country and a call from Beijing to protect the interest of Chinese firms operating there.

Update: The foreign ministry on Tuesday confirmed 12 deaths with one sailor still missing.

Second Update: Thai authorities say a group of renegade soldiers have admitted responsibility for the killings.


Filed under China-Southeast Asia