China, Asia leaders discuss Mekong dam projects

China, Asia leaders discuss Mekong dam projects

China, Asia leaders discuss Mekong dam projects

Cambodia, as a member country of groups like the Greater Mekong Subregion, plays "a major role in these regional and subregional organisations, and is therefore important in China's strategic interest", said Dr Deth Sok Udom, a Phnom Penh-based associate professor of worldwide relations.

Beijing has pledged billions of dollars to build new infrastructure in Cambodia, officials said, Thursday, as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang ended a two-day charm offensive currying favour for its mega-dams across the Mekong River.

But what they do agree on is that China has the upper hand over a resource that serves as the economic lifeblood of its poor southern backyard.

Leaders of the six riparian countries held their first meeting in China in 2016 and the next summit is to take place in Laos in 2020. Many said great progress has been made in a short time.

They will also discuss the socio-economic development of the member countries and the reduction of the gap among them, the support for the Association of South Eastern Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the boost of South-South Cooperation as a contribution to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In terms of cooperation in the next five years, he called for more attention to increasing cooperation in protecting, managing and using the Mekong River's water resources in an effective and sustainable manner, thus turning water resource cooperation into a cooperation focus of the six countries.

The country's foreign exchange reserves rose to their highest in more than a year in December, blowing past economists' estimates, as tight regulations and a strong yuan continued to discourage capital outflows. "They are really committed and deliver what they have said or promised".

Calling the two countries close neighbors with profound friendship, Li said China always respects Cambodia's sovereignty and independence, and supports the country to stick to a development path with Cambodian characteristics. With no power to prevent China from damming its own portion of the river, the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation summit could be the best way for the downstream countries to influence plans for the river. More than 60 million people depend on the river and its tributaries for food, water, transport and many other things in their daily lives. The river's basin is home to up to 1,700 fish species, making it the most diverse basin after the Amazon and Congo.

In return, Cambodia supports China in global forums, including Beijing's ongoing dispute with Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea.

China is the driving force behind numerous projects, having already built eight dams on the river since the 1990s and now building or planning more than a dozen more. So far seven megadams have been built and more than 20 are under construction or planned in Yunnan, Tibet and Qinghai, according to International Rivers, a US-based non-profit environmental and human rights organisation.

China is also seeking to have parts or the river dredged or rapids cleared so that large cargo ships can navigate it. Environmentalists have warned this could have dire consequences on the ecosystem.

It is called the Mekong River as it flows through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying into the sea.

The project is set to start this year and would take at least 44 months to complete, he added.

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