OPINION: What does Chinese ‘reciprocity’ mean for Mekong’s dams?

by Carl Middleton

The Lancang Mekong supports 70 million people living in the basin(Photo: He Daming)

The Lancang Mekong supports 70 million people living in the basin(Photo: He Daming)

It is now two and a half years since the first Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) leaders’ summit was held in Sanya city on Hainan Island, China. The aim of the LMC – a China led multilateral body involving all six Mekong countries – is to deepen economic, cultural and political ties between China and mainland Southeast Asia. Leaders have repeatedly declared the importance of the Lancang-Mekong River to this cooperation. Reflecting this, on 1-2 November, the LMC will host the “1st Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Forum” in Kunming, China.

The LMC’s second leaders’ summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in January 2018 revealed the swift pace of the initiative. This is reflected in the numerous senior-level meetings between governments, the initiation of almost 200 China-funded projects, and the LMC’s deepening institutionalisation through various LMC secretariats and working groups. Yet, while China has hosted people-to-people exchange programs and university scholarships, the LMC’s state-centric approach has afforded little opportunity for public deliberation about its overall policy principles and direction.

Through the LMC, some government officials and scholars from China have proposed that downstream and upstream countries have both rights and responsibilities towards each other. This concept of ‘reciprocity’ is not yet official LMC policy, but suggests a shift in government position compared to China’s earlier unilateral construction of dams on the Lancang River. Overall, the LMC and its proposition of ‘reciprocity’ appears to be an invitation to negotiate basin-wide water cooperation on the Lancang-Mekong River.

Much, however, remains uncertain. For example, how will the LMC build upon the existing inter-governmental Mekong River Commission, established in 1995 by the four lower basin countries? How will the LMC address concerns of riverside communities and civil society and ensure their meaningful inclusion? And how will countries ensure the river’s ecological health given the strong push for economic growth and associated water infrastructure projects? This article asks whether the LMC and the concept of ‘reciprocity’ is a promising approach to meet these challenges.

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OPINION: Reasons for Water Scarcity in Hakha [In Chin language]

OPINION: Reasons for Water Scarcity in Hakha [In Chin language]

Hakha cu Kawlram nitlak chaklei fing le tlang an tamnak Chin ramkulh khualipi a si. A liamcia kum tlawmpal ah Hakha khuachung khuasa an hung karh ciammam i dinti ah harnak a tong. Cu lio ah 2015 Chiapa thla dongh ah mincimhnak hun ton a si i minung a thong lengkai hmundang ah ṭhial hau in um. Hi kan dothlatnak nih a langhter mi cu zeitluk in dah ti harnak hi taksa nunnak le zatlang khuasaknak aa pehtlaih: Khuapi pakhat a si i, minung an hung karh tik ah zeitin in dah inn hmun an samh ti le khua an ser ning, tihram ngeih mi hna pawngkam vialte thinghau le thinghlam nak nih ti a chuak tawn mi le hman tawn mi a tlawmter, cun ti pekning le sersiam ning kong ah tangka hman awk pek lonak hna nih ti kong ah i zat lonak le harnak a chuahpi. Khuaram kan sersiam pah i ti kong biapi chiahnak nih ti harnak in i runven khawh a si, tiva horkuang sersiam ning, atu lio tawlrel cuahmah mi sipin ti peknak le hman ning kong ah laihlum khuasa hna le ti a hmang mi hna he i fonh in tiharnak in i runvennak timhtuahnak ngeihchih a herh. Cun, a biapi deuh rih mi cu ṭuanvo ngeitu le mizapi karlak ah i zumhnak, i bochannak le i ngamhtlaknak hna nih Hakha khuachung khuasa hna caah ti pek ning le ti hmuh ning ah hngatchan tlak le rinhchantlak a siter lai.

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OPINION: How About Accountability Beyond Borders?

OPINION: How About Accountability Beyond Borders?

By Carl Middleton

The arrival of the ASEAN Economic Community in December 2015 marked a major milestone in the ambition of the countries of the region to become closer to one another through economic cooperation. It anticipates economic growth, and with it a growing role for large transnational and domestic corporations, as well as for smaller businesses.

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