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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.

China was also blamed for the scarcity of fish in the river because fish cannot swim through its dams.

China reasoned that its hydropower reservoirs are too small to keep back a huge volume of water. Moreover, they can help maintain water in the river at a constant level and prevent floods. The Chinese spokesmen conceded that it is important to have statistics about these dams. Data about water levels on the Lan Xang before and after the construction of the dams has not been released.

MRC Managing Director Jeremy Bird commented that this is the first time China has agreed to share data with downstream countries.

On the margins of the Mekong River International Conference, the acting director of Vietnam’s Southern Irrigation Planning Institute, Nguyen Ngoc Anh, expressed his view that the problem is not only unfortunate weather. China’s management of hydro-power reservoirs has exacerbated current problems, Anh said.

“Any activity in the Mekong River upstream impacts the downstream. Dams which hold water will make certain impacts, including impacts during impoundment of the water or impacts during operation of the dams. In 2003, as soon as China completed the construction of its Manwan Dam, Laos complained about drought caused by this work,” he said.

In 1986-1993, China built the Manwan Dam without consulting any of the downstream countries. It refused invitations to join the MRC, now would it provide information about projects on the upstream sections of the Mekong River.

It’s commitment at the MRC summit to cooperate is good, but experts say that China needs to do more than make promises.

This piece was written by Thai An, and originially appeared on VietNamNet.