Mekong leaders fail to raise environmental concerns at summit in Phnom Penh

12 January, 2018, 19:16 | Author: Regina Silva
  • Power stacked against SE Asia's poor as China dams Mekong

Li celebrated his embrace of multilateralism with an op-ed penned specially for a Cambodian newspaper, and basked in China's triumph with its five southerly neighbors, all of whom share the Mekong, Southeast Asia's longest river.

It is called Lancang when it emerges in the Chinese Tibetan plateau, but it runs through five other countries and flows into the East Sea, where it is called Mekong.

This cooperation mechanism was created in November 2014 at Li's proposal during the 17th China-ASEAN Summit.

Lesser known than another Chinese global development effort, the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing introduced the LMC in 2015, identifying it as "a new type of sub-regional cooperation mechanism" en route to a joint objective of "building a community of shared future among Lancang-Mekong countries".

China is willing to continue to provide assistance for Cambodia to the best of its ability, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Thursday.

The slew of deals comes weeks after the US and European Union condemned the Cambodian government's targeting of the opposition ahead of a general election scheduled for July this year, which they said had called the legitimacy of the vote into question, withdrawing electoral support and placing trade agreements with the Southeast Asian nation under review.

"In doing so it seeks to legitimize its own actions in building dams within its own borders while its state-linked commercial companies are associated with dam building downstream from China", Osborne told VOA Khmer in an email.

They will also discuss the socio-economic development of the member countries and the reduction of the gap among them, the support for the Association of South Eastern Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the boost of South-South Cooperation as a contribution to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. "We have to respect each other and consider each other with equality for common development", he said.

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Suiting the trend of regional economic integration, the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation mechanism has shown strong vitality since its birth.

The article, published on the eve of Li's arrival in Cambodia on his first overseas trip in 2018, set the tone for a two-day summit in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, for the sub-regional initiative.

A spokesman for the Cambodian government could not be reached for comment on Thursday afternoon.

The biennial event is organised in rotation among the member countries.

Led by Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhonn, Cambodia signed a new cooperation agreement with China in December, receiving more than US$7 million to fund various projects, including monitoring water quality, restoring forests and combating land degradation.

Communities in the lower Mekong countries have reported depleted fish stocks in recent years and are blaming the dams.

Po Sovinda, worldwide relations analyst with the East China Normal University in Shanghai, said China, as an upstream country of the Mekong River, likely would use the LMC as a model of Beijing-led multilateral institutionalizations by proving that it would "not seek hegemony".

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. When Vietnam experienced its worst drought in 90 years in 2016, experts said China was partially responsible as its reservoir dams had increased evaporation rates upstream.

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