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China's role in Mekong River maintenance

The Mekong water level is the lowest it's been in five decades. Many Southeast Asian countries point the finger upstream, at China.

A fisherman works on his fish farm on a partially dry reservoir on the Mekong River during a drought affecting the Thai-Lao border area of Wiang Kaen district, Chiang Rai province, north of Bangkok, March 11, 2010. Severe drought has hit Southeast Asian countries, parching the region's major river, Mekong, whose water level has dropped to only 33 centimeters, the lowest in 50 years. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters)

Editor's note: This story comes from our partner, VietNamNet.

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Song Tao told participants in the Mekong River Council Summit in Hua Hin, Thailand on April 5 that China is willing to promote cooperation with downstream countries in mitigating droughts and floods, sharing hydrographic technology and information, exchange and training of hydrographic experts, etc.

This spring the water level in Southeast Asia’s longest river, the Mekong, has dropped to its lowest level in five decades. Since late 2009, China’s southwestern region and many places in four Mekong River Council (MRC) countries — Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam — have faced severe drought.

For the first time since its founding 15 years ago, the MRC organized a summit meeting. Present were the prime ministers of member countries and, as observers, high-ranking officials from China and Myanmar.

In this dry season, the story about the Mekong River is hotter than ever.

China’s officials at the summit stressed that China is also a “victim of severe drought.” They denied that China’s sequestration of water in upstream dams has caused any harm to the downstream countries.

Deputy Foreign Minister Song Tao emphasized that “statistics show that recent droughts in the Mekong River downstream are caused by severely dry weather. The Mekong River’s low water level is not related to hydro-power plants on the Lan Xang (China’s name for the upper part of Mekong River). China is also a victim of drought.”

To prove its cooperation with countries downstream, Song said, since mid-March China has supplied the data from its Jinghong and Manwan dams. China is ready to promote cooperation with the MRC and downstream countries, he emphasized.

The chief of the Agency for International Cooperation, Science and Technology of China’s Ministry for Water Resources spoke at a preliminary meeting, the Mekong River International Conference, on April 2-3. He said that the water level of the Mekong River has fallen to a record low because of drought and climate change. Only 13.5 percent of the Mekong flow, he said, comes from its upstream stretch, the Lan Xang. 

However, people living downstream, some international organizations concerned with water resource management, and environment activists said that the impacts of the construction of hydropower dams in China are undeniable.