By Simon Roughneen in Bangkok
Thai officials have spoken out against the Chinese government’s plan to build 12 hydropower dams on the Mekong river, on the grounds that the development will cause further environmental damage to the waterway.
At the Mekong River Commission gathering on Thursday in Ho Chi Minh City, Prasarn Maruekpithak, Thai representative, said, “China’s four dams on the upper part of the Mekong River have already destroyed the river’s ecosystem. Now this giant nation plans to build 12 dams more on the lower part.”
Drought-like conditions have contributed to low water levels on the Mekong, an agricultural and economic lifeline for MRC members Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Thai groups have blamed dam construction by China, which acts an observer to the MRC, for the low water levels, and have put pressure on Bangkok to take a firm stance on the issue.
China recently brought lawmakers from the four MRC countries to Yunnan province, in a rare public diplomacy initiative designed to soothe concerns about Chinese activity on the river.
The dispute comes amid growing economic links between China and the rest of southeast Asia. Trade between China and members of the Association of South East Asian Nations now tops $100bn and is expected to grow after a free trade agreement between Beijing and Asean was made in January.
Thailand believes Vietnam shares its views on the proposed dam construction, adding to tensions between China and its smaller southern neighbours.
Beijing has unresolved disputes with a number of south-east Asian countries – notably Vietnam and the Philippines – over the Spratly and Paracel islands and over control of the South China Sea.
In July 2009 the US signed a Treaty of Amity and Co-operation with Asean, suggesting that Washington wants closer links with the region. In recent months China and the US have sparred over the value of the renminbi and over Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.Show