China opens water supply to drought-stricken Mekong countries

By Kou Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-16 0:48:02

Decision will help nearby countries overcome drought

China said on Tuesday it will release water from a dam on the Lancang River to help drought-stricken countries including Vietnam, a move experts believe will significantly improve China's relations with Mekong River countries, as well as hasten a cooperation mechanism.

The water will be released from Tuesday to April 10 from China's Jinghong Dam, benefiting Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, Lu Kang, spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told a daily news briefing on Tuesday.

The decision was made after Vietnam asked China to discharge more water from the hydropower station in Southwest China's Yunnan Province to help it overcome drought in the Mekong Delta, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

"The Chinese side will enhance communication and coordination with relevant countries on water resources management and disaster response to carry out practical cooperation, which we hope will better benefit people living along the Lancang-Mekong River," Lu said.

"While China and Vietnam face bitter relations due to the South China Sea dispute, the release of water will surely assuage tensions between the two nations," Gu Xiaosong, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at the Guangxi Academy of Social Science told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Vietnam welcomed China's promise to coordinate and implement the emergency water discharge plan from March 15 to April 4, Pham Thu Hang, vice spokesperson of the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday.

The ongoing drought is damaging some 160,000 hectares of paddy rice in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, causing losses of some 5,000 billion Vietnamese dong ($222.2 million), and affecting about 290,000 hectares of fruit trees, Xinhua reported.

Vietnam is not alone in suffering from drought.

Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar have also been experiencing water shortages from the impact of the El Nino phenomenon.

According to Xinhua, parts of the delta have been experiencing the most serious drought and saltwater encroachment in the past 100 years. The delta needs some $4 billion to effectively deal with the drought and saltwater encroachment.

"China has sent a strong signal to the international community that it is willing to settle disputes through constructive dialogues as well as cooperation mechanisms, which have set a good example for future relations with Mekong River countries," Gu said.

The Lancang River flows through Yunnan Province into Southeast Asia, where it is called the Mekong River. It is 4,880 kilometers long, passing through Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Lancang-Mekong framework

"China's timely decision is a result of the newly established Lancang-Mekong cooperation mechanism," Gu said.

The Lancang-Mekong Cooperation framework was officially launched in November 2015 following talks among senior foreign affairs officials from China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, which focuses on politico-security issues, economic affairs and sustainable development, as well as social affairs and people-to-people exchanges.

Lu said water resource cooperation is one of the most important items in the framework.

Before the mechanism was established, water allocation and hydroelectric projects on the river were two critical reasons which had caused misunderstanding and disputes among the countries. The lack of a proper channel to share hydrological data, as well as communication, had cast a shadow over China's relations with those countries, Gu said.

In 2010, some conservationists in countries along the lower reaches of the river had accused China of failing to release enough water from the dams, putting China under diplomatic and political pressure, Xinhua reported.

"The timely water release shows the necessity of building such a cooperation mechanism, as well as to foster trust in China," Song Qingrun, associate professor and unit chief of the Bay of Bengal Unit at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times.

The Mekong River is a natural link between the six countries, which have strong demand for water, Song said.

The cooperation mechanism may prioritize water resources collaboration including the dredging of the river to improve its navigational capacity, as well as enhance security along the river to protect the countries' economic benefits, he added.

"The mechanism will also diversify the countries' cooperation in multiple fields, such as agriculture and regional stability, as well as narrow gaps among countries in the region so as to contribute more to the building of the ASEAN community and China-ASEAN cooperation," Gu said.

The first Lancang-Mekong River Cooperation Leaders' Meeting will be held later this month in Sanya, Hainan Province, according to the foreign ministry.

Newspaper headline: China opens water supply to Mekong

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