China’s ‘Development Approach’ to the Mekong Water Disputes

The Diplomat –

Even as COVID-19 is wreaking havoc and uncertainty around the globe, Vietnam’s Mekong Delta declared an emergency over the devastating drought in early March. Studies suggest that the frequency and severity of droughts in the Mekong region has increased in the past decades, and many blame upstream dams, particularly those in China, for exacerbating the droughts. For years China has been criticized for refusing to join the Mekong River Commission (MRC) while unilaterally building dams upstream on the Mekong River (called the Lancang in China). Such hydro projects have become one of the key triggers for water conflicts between China and other Mekong basin states.

Nevertheless, since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by Chinese President Xi Jinping in late 2013, notable changes has been witnessed in China’s transboundary water policy in the Mekong region, which is considered a pivot point for China’s opening up to South and Southeast Asia.

In the past, China’s Mekong River policy could be broadly summarized as “unilateral development with limited multilateral cooperation.” During this period, the overriding goal of China’s Mekong water policy swung between “rights protection” and ‘stability maintenance.”

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