We examine whose knowledge counts in shaping transboundary water governance of the Lancang-Mekong River

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Contact Dr. Carl Middleton for further details.



Project Status: Ongoing


Since the early 1990s, the Lancang-Mekong River has transformed from a free-flowing river to one increasingly engineered by large dams. In 1992, China commissioned the Manwan Dam, the first of six large hydropower dams built unilaterally on the Lancang River mainstream in Yunnan province. To date, in the lower Mekong basin, almost sixty medium or large hydropower dams are in operation, with over twenty more under construction, including the Xayaburi Dam and Don Sahong Dam on the Mekong River’s mainstream in Laos.

In 1995, the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand jointly established the Mekong River Commission (MRC) intended to strengthen transboundary water governance for sustainable development. However, since its creation, the MRC has faced a number of challenges, including how to: cooperate with China; ensure citizen participation; and influence programs on regional economic integration. In 2016 the China-led Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) was launched that commits the six countries along the Lancang-Mekong River to cooperation in five priority areas, including economic integration and water resource management.

With a focus on the MRC and LMC, this research examines how knowledge production by these two organizations, together with knowledge production by others including academics, civil society and communities, is influencing transboundary water governance. Our research questions are:

  • What are the emerging visions for transboundary water governance on the Lancang-Mekong River, including of the LMC and the MRC? To what extent are they convergent or divergent?

  • What knowledge is being produced towards these visions and by who? How is this knowledge production (re)shaping and contesting existing norms and practices on transboundary water governance?

  • What are the implications of the new transboundary water governance regime for environmental sustainability and social justice?

This research is a sub-project of the Competing Regional Integrations in Southeast Asia (CRISEA) interdisciplinary research program funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme. In particular, we contribute to “The Environment: Securing the Commons” research theme led by the University of Chiang Mai, Thailand, and the University of Lodz, Poland.