The red-robed monk sat impatiently at the front of the consultation meeting in Chiang Saen, northern Thailand. Once the representatives from China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) had finished their presentation he stood up and scolded them for taking too long. He disputed their description of the Thai-Lao-Myanmar stretch of the Mekong as “primitive”. “Thammachat [the natural system and state of the river] is not undeveloped,” he asserted. “It is rich. To do this to the river without answering the concerns of local people would be the same as stealing.”
The monk spoke at one of a series of public consultations held between 3-5 January by the China-based multinational company with communities along the Mekong in Chiang Rai province. CCCC Second Harbour Consultants conducted the meetings as part of an impact assessment into its proposal to blast and dredge the Mekong for commercial shipping. The company is waiting for final approval from the Thai government.
The scheme aims to open up the Mekong river, which flows from Tibet in China through Southeast Asia, to commercial barges of 500 tonnes (up from the current maximum of 200 tonnes). The project would involve blasting stretches of the river between Thailand and Laos to enable ships to move from China’s Yunnan province all the way to the UNESCO world heritage site of Luang Prabang in Laos.