Written by Dr. Xuezhong Yu, project leader of the MK22 project
The first Lancang-Mekong cooperation foreign ministers’ meeting was held in Jinghong City, Southwest China’s Yunnan province, on Nov 12, 2015. Foreign ministers of Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam attended this meeting which was proposed at the 17th ASEAN-China Summit in Nay Pyi Taw a year ago. This meeting announced the establishment of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism which is the first sub-regional cooperation mechanism initiated by the six countries located along the Lancang-Mekong River. It is also referred to as the “baby” of the six countries.
At this meeting, the representatives reached a consensus that priorities should be given in five directions including connectivity, production capacity, trans-border economy, water resources, agriculture and poverty reduction. Among the five directions, water resources collaboration is expected to be built into a flagship filed in Lancang-Mekong River cooperation based on the critical importance of water resources in Lancang-Mekong region and the mutual promotion between water resources collaboration and the cooperation mechanism.
Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism and water resources collaboration will mutually promote trust
Water is the most basic resource and also a national strategic resource with crucial implications. Water conflicts along the international rivers are common in many regions of the world because of the lack of mutual trust among the countries the rivers flow through. We have to admit the degree of mutual trust among the Mekong countries is not high. Dispute and benefit difference relevant to water issues still exist in the Lancang-Mekong region to some extent. Water allocation and environmental effects of hydroelectric projects are two critical transboundary issues in the Lancang-Mekong basin. The Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism will strengthen the mutual trust among the six countries that will create a solid foundation for water resources collaboration. On the other hand, the success of water resources collaboration will enhance the mutual trust and consolidate the comprehensive and cooperative partnership among the Lancang-Mekong countries.
Water resources collaboration contributes to other priority directions
The enhancement of water resources collaboration will benefit the other four priority directions in the Lancang-Mekong cooperation mechanism. Hydropower is a favorite source of power in lower Mekong region to meet the 7% annually rise of power demands between 2010 and 2030. The construction of water projects and power grid will be an incentive for the collaboration of production capacity and trans-border economy. Water resources development and utilization will support the connectivity improvement in navigation. Capacity improvement of flood control and disaster relief will guarantee the implementation of agriculture collaboration and poverty reduction in this region. This meeting announced to establish a cooperation center for Lancang-Mekong River water resources. We anticipate this cooperation center for water resources can facilitate the establishment of the integrated river basin cooperation and management in the Lancang-Mekong River basin.
Hydropower development will be the core of water resources collaboration
At present, only around 10 percent of the estimated hydroelectric potential in the lower Mekong River basin is developed. Hydropower development in the Lancang-Mekong basin has long been debated and is expected to last in the future decades. The transboundary effect of hydroelectric project is a major topic of conflicts in the Lancang-Mekong region. A variety of environmental, cultural, economic and social components are involved with hydropower development, so hydropower will be the core of water resources collaboration in this region.
With regards to hydropower collaboration, China may continue to operate the existing dams on the Lancang River to meet the demands of flood control and drought relief in downstream regions. The practices in flood and drought years showed the integrated optimal regulation of dams on Lancang River can effectively improve the capacities of irrigation and water supply, navigation, and flood control in the lower Mekong basin. At the same time, hydropower owners should further study and implement the mitigate measures for adverse effects on the lower stretch of the river. Secondly, an important proportion of hydropower projects invested and constructed by Chinese companies are located in the Mekong countries. The dialog and communication between Chinese hydropower developers and local communities should be strengthened to improve the sustainability performance of these projects. Thirdly, China can share experience and lessons on hydropower development with Mekong countries. Chinese hydropower sector accumulated rich experience in planning, design, construction, and operation of hydroelectric projects with rapid development of hydropower industry in the past three decades. The experience and lesson in hydropower planning and environmental mitigation are particularly worth learning for Mekong countries.
[wp-svg-icons icon=”user-3″ wrap=”b”] Dr. Xuezhong Yu is a senior hydro-environmental scientist at Ecofish Research Ltd. He is a water resources and environmental specialist with over 20 years of experience as researcher and consultant. In 2008-2010 he participated in the development of Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol which is widely accepted and recognized globally as an enhanced sustainability assessment tool used to measure and guide performance in the hydropower sector.