China plans more work on Mekong

Bangkok Post 13 August 2004

By Piyaporn Wongruang

Sand bars 'hold back' ships on 80km stretch

China will deepen a section of the upper Mekong river that stretches from Jing Hong to Guan Laei in Xishuangbanna in Yunnan province to ease the way for freight ships, said a transport official.

The 80km river section was dominated by shallow sand bars that obstructed cargo ships, said Ma Hui Ming, chief of the Jing Hong office's China Marine Safety Administration.

The sand bars would be removed so cargo ships of up to 400 tonnes could navigate year-round.

In 2000, China signed a navigation agreement with Burma, Laos, and Thailand, to let 100-tonne cargo ships navigate the 800km section from Simao port upstream of Jing Hong port to Luang Prabang in Laos year-round.

The countries have removed 21 rapids and shoals in the first phase.

However, large cargo ships are still unable to pass through the Jing Hong-Guan Laei river section due to shallow water and sand bars.

A Chinese official at Jing Hong port said cargo ships l oaded their cargo at Guan Laei port during the dry season.

Mr Ma said the project would be finished in two years and cost 100 million yuan (B500m), nearly 1.5 times more than that spent removing the rapids and shoals.

Mr Ma spoke after meeting Thai transport and port officials who paid a visit to Jing Hong recently.

He said the project was in China's territory and there was no need to consult other countries on the river.

Sub-Lt Preecha Phetwong, director of the marine safety and environmental bureau and secretary of the Joint Committee on Coordination of Commercial Navigation on the Lancang-Mekong River, said China started work on the river about the same time the agreement was signed, but didn't tell anyone.

Thailand has asked China to maintain water levels in the river after they fell to new depths last dry season.

The government suspects Chinese dams on the upper Mekong took the water.