BOOK: Knowing the Salween River: Resource Politics of a Contested Transboundary River

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Title:
Knowing the Salween River: Resource Politics of a Contested Transboundary River

Editors:
Carl Middleton and Vanessa Lamb

Year:
2019

Further details about the book are available here.

This open access book focuses on the Salween River, shared by China, Myanmar, and Thailand, that is increasingly at the heart of pressing regional development debates. The basin supports the livelihoods of over 10 million people, and within it there is great socio-economic, cultural and political diversity. The basin is witnessing intensifying dynamics of resource extraction, alongside large dam construction, conservation and development intervention, that is unfolding within a complex terrain of local, national and transnational governance. With a focus on the contested politics of water and associated resources in the Salween basin, this book offers a collection of empirical case studies that highlights local knowledge and perspectives. Given the paucity of grounded social science studies in this contested basin, this book provides conceptual insights at the intersection of resource governance, development, and politics of knowledge relevant to researchers, policy-makers and practitioners at a time when rapid change is underway.

For more information about our project Salween Water Governance, please visit here.

POLICY BRIEF: Shaping the Future of Mekong Regional Architecture: Reinforcing Transboundary Water Governance Through Reciprocity

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Publication date:
June 2019

Publication: 
Shaping the Future of Mekong Regional Architecture: Reinforcing Transboundary Water Governance Through Reciprocity

Download the policy brief here.

This policy brief is produced for track 1.5 Mekong Policy Dialogue on evolving sub-regional architecture and the role of Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS), co-organized by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - Australia (DFAT), The Asia Foundation (TAF), and Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS) . For more information more resources from the dialogue, please visit this link here.

Authors: 
Carl Middleton, David J. Devlaeminck, and Anisa Widyasari

Key Findings

  • There is deepening cooperation between the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC). The joint activities to date can be understood as examples of specific reciprocity, namely specific exchanges of more-or-less equal value with clearly defined obligations, and have helped build trust.

  • To further collaboration, regional governments will need to gradually move from specific reciprocity to diffuse reciprocity. Here, cooperation is not between specific actors alone (i.e. the MRC and LMC), but reflects a broader cooperation between wider groups of actors and beyond river-based considerations.

  • To date, the MRC has directed more attention to the benefits to the river, including wild capture fisheries and other ecosystem services, whilst the LMC has emphasized more regional economic planning and projects. By working together, the river might be better protected, whilst simultaneously yielding sustainable generation of economic benefits.

  • Some potential directions for furthering collaboration include: a joint, systematic baseline assessment of the current ecological and socio-economic status of the Lancang-Mekong River and key drivers of change; a joint study on the existing legal rules, customary principles, and pledges maintained by each organization to identify points of commonality and difference; and a collaborative analysis to define reciprocity as a concept, and how it can be operationalized through relevant rules and regulations working towards a rulesbased approach.

  • The concept of reciprocity encompasses not just inter-state cooperation but also the interests and activities of non-state stakeholders, such as riverside communities. The MRC and LMC could consider co-organizing multi-stakeholder dialogues to generate a more complete picture of the Lancang-Mekong River and its diverse economic, social and cultural values.

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.

For the full article, please click here.

POLICY BRIEF: Reciprocal Transboundary Cooperation on the Lancang-Mekong River: Towards an Inclusive and Ecological Relationship

Publication date:
November 2018

Publication: 
Reciprocal Transboundary Cooperation on the Lancang-Mekong River: Towards an Inclusive and Ecological Relationship

Download the policy brief here.

Visit the Water governance and knowledge production on the Lancang-Mekong River project page here.

Author: 
Carl Middleton
 

Summary
It is now two and a half years since the first Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) leaders’ summit was held in Sanya city in Yunnan Province, China. During this period, the LMC has become increasingly institutionalized. The overarching ambition of the LMC is to deepen economic, cultural and political ties between China and mainland Southeast Asia. This policy brief assesses emerging principles for transboundary water cooperation under the LMC, in particular the concept of reciprocity that expands upon the UN Water Courses Convention. It also assesses the role of the LMC vis-a-vis the Mekong River Commission in transboundary water governance. The analysis concludes that as the LMC becomes a more consolidated institution, a genuine and equal partnership for the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation is needed that could build upon principles of “inclusive reciprocity” between state and non-state actors, and “ecological reciprocity” that recognizes the need for an ecologically healthy Lancang-Mekong River.

Mekong River at Chiang Khong, Northern Thailand (Credit: Carl Middleton)

Mekong River at Chiang Khong, Northern Thailand (Credit: Carl Middleton)

REPORT: Charting New Pathways Towards Inclusive and Sustainable Development of the Nu River Valley

REPORT: Charting New Pathways Towards Inclusive and Sustainable Development of the Nu River Valley

Development comes at a cost, but what that cost is and who bears that cost is not set in stone. China’s rapid economic ascent has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, but it has also precipitated severe ecological crises. In many cases, a “pollute first, clean up later” mentality towards industrialization has led to inequitable and unjust outcomes for both people and the environment. The Chinese government’s efforts on maintaining high economic growth rates in an effort to modernize the economy and society has in many cases obscured the scale of damage done to the environment, though the Chinese government and other institutional actors are actively taking steps to mitigate and alleviate issues of environmental degradation. The story of the Nu River, also known as the Salween or the Thanlwin, illustrates how hydropower development on the river was actively contested and resisted by diverse stakeholders, opening up possibilities for other kinds of water resource management and development.

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POLICY BRIEF: The Differences in Women’s Development and Employment of Xiao Shaba Village

Gender-related issues figure high on global research and policy agendas, especially economic issues such as employment and development inequity between men and women. This research has identified gaps in employment opportunities between men and women and has also identified the related causes of gender inequity in terms of their employment opportunities. The results of this research culminate to contribute to raising awareness of the affected people in the reservoir resettlement area, particularly focusing on the role of women. The research emphasizes the changes in employment circumstances and prospects after resettlement, and compares the income of people before and after the transition.

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POLICY BRIEF: From Hydropower to Sustainable Ecotourism: The Future of Development in the Nu River Valley, Yunnan, China

Following concerns raised by a coalition of Chinese environmental groups, scientists and policy makers including the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), the 13 proposed mainstream dams on the Nu/Salween River have been under suspension since 2004. It is now very likely that the dam project will be cancelled given the plan’s lack of inclusion in China’s 13th five-year development plan and the announcement of a project to build national parks in the area in 2016. This is a positive development for those concerned about sustainable development in the Mekong Region, as well as an opportunity for concerned citizens, environmentalists and the Chinese authorities to work closer together to build a sustainable future for the Nu River in China as well as its residents upstream and downstream.

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POLICY BRIEF: Myanmar and China Dams: The Need for Strong Environmental Impact Assessment

A comparative study on China’s and Myanmar’s approaches to environmental impact assessments (EIA) to hydropower projects shows that the Chinese EIA is weaker than the Myanmar EIA based on Myanmar’s EIA procedural rules of 2015 and other environmental laws and standards. These findings partially explain the not very successful Chinese investment in hydropower projects in Myanmar, which are argued to have important and often negative implications for both countries.

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