Published: Fri, January 12, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

Mekong Countries Pledge More Cooperation as Demands on River Grow

Mekong Countries Pledge More Cooperation as Demands on River Grow

The agreements and memorandums of understanding were signed during a meeting between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has joined other leaders of nations along the Mekong River for the second Mekong-Lancang Cooperation summit. "A weakness of the current Lancang Mekong Cooperation Framework's approach is that there appears to be little interest by China to develop specific written rules for trans-boundary water sharing".

Li was speaking at a meeting of a forum in Phnom Penh on Wednesday with leaders of 5 countries along the Mekong River - Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar.

Drinking from the same Lancang-Mekong river, the six riparian countries have a common aspiration for development and prosperity.

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.

The more than 4,000 kilometer river is home to the largest inland fishery in the world and feeds some 60 million people.

Experts say it is too early to draw full conclusions about the impact given a lack of baseline data and the complex nature of the river's ecosystem.

China is increasing its investment along the river through building dams and a navigation channel.

The forum is seen as a rival to the Mekong River Commission, which has existed for more than 60 years but excludes China and Myanmar.

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"I am not optimistic that [the LMC] will play a positive part in addressing the major issues that now confront the environmental challenges aligned to the Mekong: decline in fish stocks, the issues associated with climate change, the particular problems of the Mekong Delta", Osborne said.

In a summit big on fanfare but light on detail this week, China pushed through a five-year development plan with the countries along of one Asia's most critical and embattled rivers - the Mekong.

With control over the headwaters of the river - known there as the Lancang - Beijing can dam its section of the river while the impacts are felt downstream.

A Chinese embassy spokesman in Phnom Penh could not be reached for comment Monday. All six member nations - the Mekong nations - had created secretariats to take charge of LMC matters by the end of December 2016. Trade between China and the Mekong countries hit $17.5 billion in the first 10 months of 2017, up by 15.6% for the same period year on year, according to Chinese government reports.

"The [LMC] has grown into a sub-regional cooperation framework with great potential and vitality", Li said in an op-ed published this week in the Phnom Penh newspaper, Khmer Times.

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

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

Po Sovinda, global 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".

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