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)

JOURNAL ARTICLE: The Public Regime for Migrant Child Education in Thailand: Alternative Depictions of Policy

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Publication date:
September 2018

Publication: Asian Politics & Policy

Authors:
Nongyao Nawarat and Michael Medley

Abstract:
This article analyzes the conceptualization and depiction of Thailand’s public policy on education for the children of migrant workers in the country by examining a cluster of fairly  recent  literature  on  the  subject.  The  studied  texts  broadly  share  the  view  that Thailand’s  policy  of  providing  full  education  to  these  children  is  subject  to  gaps  and patchy  implementation.  An  analytical  review  of  the  literature  on  conceptualizing  this policy shows, however, that this picture is misleading as it tends to reduce policy to an idealized  intention.  Rather,  Thailand  has  a  plurality  of  local  policies  ambiguously governed by a national policy, which in turn does not predominantly aim at education for all. We contend that our improved characterization of the situation helps create more productive openings for research and policy change on this important topic.

Read the article here.

JOURNAL ARTICLE: Infrastructure in the Making: The Chao Phraya Dam and the Dance of Agency

JOURNAL ARTICLE: Infrastructure in the Making: The Chao Phraya Dam and the Dance of Agency

The article explores the process behind the construction of the Chao Phraya Dam, the first World Bank-funded water infrastructure project in Thailand, developed during the 1950s. Employing Andrew Pickering's ‘dance of agency’ concept in examining the process of turning financial and technical assistance into a workable project, I argue that development infrastructure, like the Chao Phraya Dam, provides a space to explore the dialectic operations – accommodation and resistance – of agency and the unstable associations among diverse actors, expertise, institutions, and materials, as well as practices. Recounting the history of the dam in the making, I explore a series of entanglements through different dances of agency, namely initiation, assessment, mobilisation, negotiation, adjustment, confrontation, and settlement. Such a multiplicity of dances inside and in the making of infrastructure reflects the techno-political entanglement encompassing the manifold negotiation and adjustment of conflicting goals, interests, recognition, and cooperation among different agencies. The dam, often portrayed as an engineering achievement of the state, is in fact the result of unanticipated relations and the responses to the temporal emerging forms of practices.

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JOURNAL ARTICLE: Long-term recovery narratives following major disasters in Southeast Asia

JOURNAL ARTICLE: Long-term recovery narratives following major disasters in Southeast Asia

Most studies of major disasters focus on the impacts of the event and the short-term responses. Some evaluate the underlying causes of vulnerability, but few follow-up events years later to evaluate the consequences of early framings of the recovery process. The objective of this study was to improve understanding of the influence that recovery narratives have had on how decisions and actions are undertaken to recover from a disaster, and what influence this has had in turn, on long-term resilience. The study drew on comparisons and insights from four case studies in Southeast Asia: (1) local innovations that led to new policies for living with floods in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam following the 2001 Mekong River floods; (2) livelihood and infrastructure responses in Prey Veng, Cambodia, after the 2001 and 2011 Mekong River floods; (3) the role of the Panglima Laot, a traditional fisheries management institution, in the recovery process following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Aceh province, Indonesia; and (4) the challenges faced by small and medium enterprises in a market area following the 2011 floods in Bangkok, Thailand. This study identified alternative narratives on the purpose and means of ‘recovery’ with implications for who ultimately benefits and who remains at risk. The study also found both formal and informal loss and damage systems were involved in recoveries. The findings of this study are important for improving the performance of loss and damage systems, both existing and planned, and, ultimately, supporting more climate resilient development that is inclusive.

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BOOK CHAPTER: Chapter 5: Living with and against floods in Bangkok and Thailand's central plain

Publication date:
December 2017

Publication:
Living with Floods in a Mobile Southeast Asia: A Political Ecology of Vulnerability, Migration and Environmental Change

Authors:
Naruemon Thabchumpon and Narumon Arunotai

Editors:
Carl Middleton, Rebecca Elmhirst and Supang Chantavanich

For further details on the book and to purchase, please visit are Routledge Press.

For more information about our project Mobile political ecologies of Southeast Asia, please visit here and to view the full policy brief on the book's research, please visit here

In this chapter, Naruemon Thabchumpon and Narumon Arunotai present empirical research on the impacts of the major flood in 2011 in Thailand on three urban, one semi-urban and three rural communities. The chapter shows that whilst the rural communities are largely adapted to seasonal flooding, the 2011 flood increased vulnerability due to damage of property and livelihoods. In urban areas, communities were not well prepared and therefore were highly vulnerable. The chapter discusses the contentious politics of how vulnerability was exacerbated by government policy to protect core urban and industrial areas, leaving rural and suburban areas flooded. Thabchumpon and Arunotai nd that in the case studies selected the relationship between flooding and mobility is subtle. For example, some, but not all, rural migrants living in urban areas returned to their rural family homes, where living with floods was more feasible.

Please contact nthabchumpon@gmail.com for more information.

POLICY BRIEF: Living with Floods in a Mobile Southeast Asia: Vulnerability, Migration and Environmental Change

Flooding is a common experience in monsoonal regions of South East Asia, where diverse flood regimes have for centuries shaped agrarian and fisheries-based livelihoods. In this policy brief, we respond to the need for a nuanced understanding of the connections between flooding and migration in Southeast Asia. The policy brief summarizes key insights from a research project with eight empirical case studies in urban and rural areas across Southeast Asia. The policy brief outlines the multi-dimensional relationship between migration, vulnerability, resilience and social justice in Southeast Asia, cutting across the local, national and regional level, and offers recommendations on how to sensitize flood hazard policy agendas to the complexities of migration and mobility.

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POLICY BRIEF: Producing knowledge together for recovery of wetlands, agroecological farming and livelihoods in Southeast Asia

The Mekong Region contains extensive wetlands of great biodiversity that provide a wide range of ecosystems services and that are also important to human well-being (ADB, 2012). Within these wetlands, local communities often practice agroecological farming, including growing rice and vegetables, animal raising, fishing, and collecting non-timber forest products. Unfortunately, many wetlands in the Mekong Region have been degraded or even lost, including due to agricultural intensification, large-scale water infrastructure development, and land use changes associated with urbanization (Hughes, 2017). The loss of wetlands is a threat to regional sustainable development. Furthermore, as wetlands are lost, so too is the local knowledge associated with their ecosystems and how to practice agroecological farming there.

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