China blocking flow of Mekong: experts

The Nation 26 January 2006

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee            

China, which operates two major dams on the Mekong, was accused yesterday of obstructing the river’s flow – and having a major impact on millions of people and the ecosystem downstream.

Senators, academics and environmentalists said at a seminar on the developing crisis in the Mekong Basin that water regulation by two dams, the Manwan and Dachaoshan in China’s Yunnan province, had caused many problems for people in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

China’s water management, to generate electricity and facilitate water transport affected people’s way of life and the ecosystem downstream, Senator Kraisak Choonhavan said at the seminar, hosted by Toyota Foundation.

Seasonal floods and droughts, and the cycle of water levels in the Mekong River had changed since the opening of the dams in 1996, Senator Chirmsak Pinthong said.

People downstream could no longer predict seasonal floods and droughts for agriculture production along the river’s banks, he said.

Kraisak alleged that the Thaksin government had allowed China to control the Mekong River to facilitate trade with Thailand after signing the free-trade agreement with Beijing. The prime minister’s family business had also got access to China’s telecommunications sector.

China plans to build more dams to generate energy and has also cleared rapids on the Mekong to facilitate navigation to its neighbours in Southeast Asia.

Former secretary general of National Economic and Social Development Board, Pisit Pakkasem, told the seminar that countries downstream need to convince China to join the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

Set up in 1995 to regulate water utilisation in the lower Mekong, the MRC could take steps to control water management in the upper part of the river if China joined as a member, he said.

China is a dialogue partner of the body but is reluctant to become a full member as it wants freedom to use the upper Mekong – as one-third of the river’s 4,880-kilometre length is in China.

The MRC has set up two measuring stations in China to obtain data on water flow and has asked Beijing to cooperate to help reduce the negative impact of its water management.