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China’s Leaders Finally Listen to Me

by Joshua Kurlantzick
April 8, 2010

Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his counterparts from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos sit in their chairs during the Mekong River summit in Hua Hin

Photo Courtesy of Reuters/Damir Sagolj

I had suspected as much for some time, but it turns out that the top leadership in Beijing reads my CFR blog posts and closely follows my advice. Earlier this week, I suggested that, to demonstrate it can truly be a good neighbor in mainland Southeast Asia, China had to stop ignoring issues related to the Mekong River and its damming of the upper portions, which is partly responsible for reduced water levels and lower fish catches downstream.

This week, at a summit of the Mekong nations, China agreed to share data on reservoir levels and cooperate more closely with the lower Mekong countries, according to a report by Bloomberg News. Several Southeast Asian officials closely following the talks also suggested that China eventually would join the Mekong River Commission, the body that oversees regional cooperation related to the river. China and Burma are not members, even though they are Mekong River nations.

Of course, as with many issues in China, national-level plans can fall prey to local interests. Although Beijing may commit to greater cooperation on Mekong issues, the shipping, construction, and other industries linked to the river are often controlled by and benefit Yunnan province firms. Local officials, always in a growth-first mentality, will be unlikely to give up any of these river-related money earners, no matter what Beijing says. Maybe Beijing can convince the Kunming provincial government to read my blog posts.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Kevin larkin

    Kunming is not a province but the provincial capital of Yunnan. So it’s either the “Yunnan provincial govt.” or the “Kunming City govt.”

    And please don’t delete my comment without a response like last time.

    Thanks.

    KevLar

  • Posted by Heather "coffee makers" Bingham

    Joshua,

    The Turks have (had?) a similar problem with their southern neighbors about water from the Tigris and Euphrates. I was reading about it intensely back in college. I’m not sure if it’s been finally resolved, especially with the war in Iraq, but with the coming global water shortage, I don’t see countries willing to share anytime soon.

    You even eluded to that in this blog post by saying that local interests often trump national plans.

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