US-backed institutions' hyping China's 'dams threat' in Mekong River riddled with loopholes: expert

By Hu Yuwei and Lin Xiaoyi Source: Global Times Published: 2020/9/11 0:37:06

File photo: VCG

Meddling by the US in Mekong River water resource issues is an attempt to contain China in the region by hyping China's "dam threat," while citing only weak evidence and sources given by the US-backed institutions that blame China for downstream disasters, Chinese observers found.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Tuesday slammed the US for hyping issues of the Mekong River resources to sow discord between Mekong regional countries, after David Stilwell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, recently smeared China for "manipulating" water to fill China's reservoirs, which US-funded "Eyes on Earth" says have a combined capacity of more than 47 billion cubic meters.

The capacity of China's largest reservoir on the upper reaches of the river is only 42 billion cubic meters, said Zhao. "We advise US diplomats to be cautious about citing such a report that many global hydrological experts say is faulty and has little scientific value," Zhao said.

Chinese experts carefully evaluated a report by US climate observers Alan Basist and Claude Williams, and found that research models used in their report had obvious errors and loopholes, resulting in unreliable and misleading results.

The Global Times founds that the report, called Monitoring the Quantity of Water Flowing Through the Upper Mekong Basin Under Natural (Unimpeded Conditions), written by Basist and Williams, former and present employees of US government, was not complied by any authorized academic institution, and was not published by any official or peer-reviewed publication.

A detailed assessment of the report by Chinese hydraulic experts pointed out apparent errors. Tian Fuqiang, a Chinese leading scholar and researcher on Mekong River water resources from the Tsinghua University told the Global Times in a previous interview that the water level of hydropower stations along Lancang River is not necessarily strictly related to humidity of the basin. Therefore, estimating the flow rate of hydropower stations on Lancang River using humidity index will draw the conclusion that is far from accurate. 

Moreover, the model Basist used for detecting moisture, named Basist Wetness Index (BWI), is not applicable for studying surface moisture in a forest-covered mountain region such as the Lancang River basin, as Basist himself has mentioned in his previous academic papers. 

The authors of the report used materials and sources from the early 1990s to build their research and analytical model, which is unlikely applicable to the current global environment and climate change, Tian said in his evaluation. 

The US, as a country outside the region, has been ramped up efforts in attacking the Lancang-Meking River Cooperation (LMC) mechanism promoted by China since 2016. Their politicization on the issue keeps escalating as some media hyping it as "the second South China Sea dispute."

Another Washington-based think tank Stimson Center Southeast Asia has been persistent critics of Mekong river issues in recent years. The Center's program director Brian Eyler repeatedly lambasted China in media interviews, including one with Reuters on September 4 saying: "Giving China a major stake in the 'Battery of Southeast Asia Plan' puts Laos fast on the track of becoming a pseudo-province of China." 

Eyler on August 15 retweeted a post by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo which slanders China for "manipulating flows in a non-transparent manner," which experts said deliberately ignored China's long-term pledge and efforts in sharing data with downstream countries.

Funded by US Agency for International Development (USAID), a federal government organ that promotes US foreign policies, the center established a platform for multi-field research in Mekong River Basin.

From the end of the 20th century to 2015, the US, Japan, Australia and some other countries outside the region have been involved in Mekong River water issues. Since the launch of the LMC mechanism in 2016, however, non-regional forces have become more ambitious about getting involved in the Mekong region but in a more low-cost way, Zhang Li, a researcher on Water Diplomacy and Mekong River region from Fudan University, told the Global Times

Spreading rumors is believed to be such a low-cost way. On the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meetings in August 2019, Pompeo accused China of "shut[ing] off water upstream" and "to govern the river."

The US even blatantly blames China for dam breaks that have nothing to do with China. In July 2018, a dam contracted by a South Korean company in Laos burst, causing heavy casualties. China promptly dispatched a rescue team after the accident. 

The US took the opportunity to bash China for building dams upstream that destroy the local ecological balance, Zhang suggested.

The biggest obstacle to the future upgrading of China-ASEAN relations might be interference from outside forces, Peng Nian, a scholar at the China's National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said in an opinion piece previously published on the Global Times.

The Mekong River countries were long neglected by the US in the past due to their small economies. But now attacks by US politicians signal US' willingness to compete for the powers and voices, Peng said.

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