China denies hogging Mekong River water

Bangkok Post 12 March 2010

Drought, not dams, to blame, says counsellor

Claims that Chinese dams are causing severe drought along the Mekong River are groundless and inappropriate, Chinese government officials say.

The three Chinese dams built on the Mekong River had not affected river flows downstream, embassy counsellor Chen Dehai said in Bangkok yesterday.

China's Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue told Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Monday China's dams were not a major cause of problems along the river.

China's dams were blamed for unusual flooding along the Mekong two years ago and have been blamed for this year's severe drought, which has hit fishermen, farmers and tourism operators in lower Mekong countries, including Thailand.

"Changes in the Mekong River have nothing to do with our activities," Mr Chen said.

Only 64 billion cubic metres of water - about 13% of the water that feeds the Mekong - comes from China. The other 86.5% comes from the downstream countries, Mr Chen said.

He cited a statement from the Mekong River Commission (MRC) last week that low water levels in the Mekong River were the result of a drought in the north of Thailand and Laos.

"Statistics show that the rainfall volume in Thailand's Chiang Saen district was measured at just 20 millimetres last December - lower than the average of 52mm," he said.

Mr Chen said the drought had not only wreaked havoc in the lower Mekong countries but also many regions of China such as Yunnan and Sichuan.

Beijing is standing firm in its desire to develop the Mekong River for what it says is the mutual benefit of countries along the river.

Chinese representatives will attend the Mekong River Commission meeting in Hua Hin next month.

However, Mr Chen voiced concern that some groups would use the Hua Hin meeting as a platform to criticise China. "We hope to see positive talks [at the MRC meeting], not to blame each other," he said.

Although China is not a member of the MRC, the country had cooperated with the regional body in sharing information on the Mekong water level in China as requested by MRC members, he said.

The commission's members are Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

"We have good relations with the lower Mekong countries," Mr Chen said.

"There is no reason to create problems for our friends.

"We are now facing the problem of water shortages together."

Activist Pianporn Deetes, of the Southeast Asia Rivers Network, said she was disappointed with the Chinese government's response.

Ms Pianporn said China had failed to provide important information on the Mekong flow and the operation of the dams for the benefit of people living downstream.

Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Theera Wongsamut yesterday said his ministry planned to build water gates on Mekong tributaries in Thailand to prevent water from flowing down to the Mekong River during the dry season.

The water gates would help store water in Thai waterways for farm use and other consumption, the minister said.